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Calgary Co-op CEO still hopeful for compostable grocery bag exemption

Conversations are still ongoing with the feds over Calgary Co-op’s compostable grocery bags, and that’s good news for the company’s CEO.

This December, Government of Canada legislation will outlaw the use of single-use plastic bags across the country. This includes Calgary Co-op’s specially engineered, fully compostable bags.

In May, Mayor Jyoti Gondek sent a letter to Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, in support of Calgary Co-op’s innovation on this front.

“The City and Calgary Co-op have worked together as active partners for several years and collaborated on the design of the innovative compostable checkout bags distributed by Calgary Co-op,” the mayor’s letter read.  

“The bags break down at the Calgary Composting Facility and can be used as kitchen pail liners which supports participation in The City’s Green Cart program.”

Further, Calgary Nose Hill MP Michelle Rempel Garner launched a parliamentary petition, after a Change.org petition logged 17,521 signatures.  Rempel Garner’s parliamentary petition has a little more than 4,000 signatures and is open until December.

Calgary Co-op CEO Ken Keelor said, during the launch of their new membership app, that they continue the campaign and they’re hopeful they’ll receive an exemption before the December deadline.

“We don’t believe that hope is a good plan,” Keelor said.

“We have already been planning to make sure we have these compostable bags have continued availability to our members in five packs and 10 packs, and we’ll sell them close to our checkouts so that members can grab and continue to use those in their green bins at home.”

The Government of Canada, however, said that the Calgary Co-op compostable bags would remain prohibited under the single-use plastics ban. They said that “there is no significant evidence that biodegradable, compostable, and biobased plastics will fully degrade in the natural environment.” They cited a 2020 Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution.

“Public misconception that biodegradable and compostable plastics are environmentally friendly can also lead to increased littering and improper waste management practices of these materials,” they wrote in an email response.

The response from Environment and Climate Change Canada mentioned that specific conditions are required in the composting of the bags for them to degrade properly.

“Thus, when biodegradable and compostable plastic bags enter the environment, they are a form of plastic pollution, just like conventional plastics,” the email read.

“Their increased fragmentation can also lead to micro and nanoplastics contaminating the environment and could impact ecosystem health.”

Ongoing effort

Keelor said they took this route with the compostable bags in 2019, even before the single-use bag ban was contemplated.

“We continue to believe that they are the right option,” Keelor said.

“I think what we’re hearing is that Calgary is kind of unique. It’s one of the only cities which is ready in terms of the technology and the processes to break these bags down. Perhaps that’s why it’s such a difficult exception to make federally.”

Keelor said neither side has closed the door on the discussion, and the federal government has been open to these conversations.

“Between retail and the federal government, there’s always things that can be interpreted differently and need to be explained and need to be understood,” he said.

“I think both sides are continuing to make that effort.”

While the ban won’t allow the bags to be provided as single use, they can be bundled up, sold and used in city compost bins, in the same way as if they were single-use.

Calgary Co-op has said thus far, their compostable bags program has resulted in the diversion of at least 100 million actual plastic bags from landfills.  

Keelor also said the grocer would also continue to provide other options like collapsible totes and reusable bags.