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Calgary approves a single-use items bylaw aimed at eliminating waste

Calgary city council approved a bylaw that they say will help reduce single-use items from entering the waste stream.

The item was approved 10-4 during Tuesday’s lengthy public hearing-only meeting of Calgary city council. It will come into effect on Jan. 26, 2024.

The federal government prohibited the manufacturing and import of a wide range of single-use plastic items in December last year. In December 2023 that will include the sale of those items. Calgary will take it a step further, hoping to eliminate the items – even those made from other materials – altogether to reduce the overall waste impact.

The City said millions of these items enter the waste stream each week.

“Simply substituting single-use plastic items with those made from other materials (e.g. paper, wood, bio-plastics) will not solve the problem of how much waste is created,” the admin report read.

“In fact, some substitutes may have higher environmental impacts or cause problems for City waste diversion programs.”

Calgary’s Single-Use Items Charter Bylaw would see a minimum fee charged on new paper and reusable shopping bags. Customers would also have to request other single-use items like foodware accessories – napkins, stir sticks, straws and condiment packages.

The City has said people can avoid the costs by refusing single-use items and opting for reusable ones. The cost for a paper shopping bag will be a minimum of $.15 to start, rising to $.25 the following year. It will cost $1 for a reusable shopping bag to start, rising to $2 the year after.

Co-op wants their compostable bags exempt

Sage Pullen McIntosh with Calgary Co-op said they believe their 100 per cent compostable bags should be exempt. They were designed in cooperation with the City of Calgary as they rolled out their compostable waste program.

“They’re well loved by our community as they are a cost-effective option at 15 cents and they do serve double duty,” she told councillors.

“They carry groceries and can act as bin liners in city-provided household composting bins and were able to go in the provided green bins.”

The federal government has not exempted these items from their ban. The items are not directly included in Calgary’s bylaw.

Pullen McIntosh said they continue their advocacy with the Government of Canada and have had positive conversations with them.

Still some councillors were worried about the impact of the overall bylaw.

“I was afraid that the unintended consequences of what we’re trying to do here will actually lead to higher utilization of plastic,” said Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot. He said people may be looking for more durable plastics they can use for bags or straws.

“I also see this as a progressive tax that will potentially cost consumers more money, especially those people who can least afford to do it.”

Coun. Kourtney Penner said she’s been in local independent grocers and already seen them transitioning to a charge for bags. There’s still work to do with other retailers, work that will be done over the next year, she said.

“This is the right step. This is the right thing,” Penner said.

City councillors also approved supporting Calgary Co-op in their advocacy to have their plastic bags exempt from the federal single-use item legislation.

In the coming months, the city plans an education and awareness program to inform both consumers and retailers of the upcoming bylaw.