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Calgary committee approves new rules on single-use plastics, bags

Millions of items are in the city's waste and recycling streams, committee members heard.

Calgarians will have to fork over cash for paper bags and reusable shopping bags, plus request items like utensils, straws or stir sticks if a proposed plan is approved at council.

Calgary’s Community Development committee voted 6-2 in favour of city admin’s proposed Single-Use Items Reduction Strategy on Tuesday.

According to information provided to committee, roughly 3.5 million plastic shopping bags, 6.4 million plastic utensils, 2.4 million takeout containers and 2.4 million disposable cups are thrown away in residential and commercial garbage streams each week. They said million more are discarded in public cans as litter.

The proposed bylaw, set to take effect in 2024, would require business license holders to charge $0.15 for paper shopping bags and $1 for reusable shopping bags. After one year, that would be upped to $0.25 for paper bags and $2 for reusables.  Paper shopping bags would have to contain at least 40 per cent recycled content.

Business license holders will keep the fees from paper shopping bags and new reusable shopping bags, the city said.

City admin also suggested a by-request system for single-use plastics like straws, stir-sticks and utensils.  In their report, they cited that 67 per cent of Calgarians surveyed say they already refuse these items.

Christina Seidel from the Recycling Council of Alberta, said this represents what’s worst about our “throwaway society.”

“The whole idea of single use items, most of them are unnecessary,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting.  

“So, the idea of, in any way, trying to get that under control is very positive news.”

Seidel felt the proposed city rules would take Calgary in a direction of getting the problem under control.

The federal government does have its own ban on single-use plastics coming in at the end of this year. The city said this would be complementary to those rules.

Questioning why a city bylaw is needed

Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness said that with a federal ban coming in, and already shifting business and public compliance, why would they require businesses to charge people?

City admin said that they’re still seeing millions of bags in the garbage stream. That doesn’t include those found in the recycling stream either.

“We are still seeing this as an issue and problem to be solved,” admin said.

After the meeting, Coun. Wyness reiterated that the city’s policy is redundant given the federal plastics ban.

“Why do we have to start setting a minimum bag price when the federal government is banning plastics?” Wyness asked.

She said it was a regressive tax.

“Those that can least afford it are going to be charged. I don’t agree with that. And it’s not even helping the climate,” Wyness said.

Some on council suggested that the plan could go even further. It could address lids, single-use cups and more.  Committee chair, Coun. Kourtney Penner said they need to look internally at waste produced under their own roof.

“As many people have done, we’ve opted sometimes for convenience, right, over sustainability,” Penner said.  

“And so, we have Keurig machines, we have plastic utensils in some of our spots. If lunches or meals are delivered, we have some plastic utensils and they all come like fork, knife, spoon, napkin, wrapped in plastic.”

Coun. Penner said this was a safe first step. It gave time for businesses to begin changing their own policies and for consumers to continue changing their habits.

The item still needs approval at a full meeting of Calgary city council.