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Calgary Co-op wants re-opened conversation over compostable bags following federal court ruling

Following the Nov. 16 court ruling that found the federal government’s ban on single-use plastics to be both unreasonable and unconstitutional, Calgary Co-op wants to re-open discussions over their compostable shopping bags.

The cooperative has maintained that the bags, which were designed to be fully compostable at City of Calgary waste management facilities, are not plastic and should not have been subject to the Liberal Cabinet order which led to the ban.

“When the plastic ban came into effect, we were very uncomfortable that these bags, which are used by Calgarians as green bin liners as well as to get groceries every week, would have to go away,” said Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op.

Justice Angela Furlanetto ruled that the government’s order to add plastic manufactured items (PMI) to the schedule one listing of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was unreasonable, as the category was to broad and that there was not a reasonable expectation that all PMIs were in fact, harmful.

Keelor has maintained that their bags, which were developed in conjunction with Leaf Environmental Products, are not plastic.

“They break down perfectly in the Calgary city facilities, and we worked with them as partners for that. And so we’ve been very disappointed, and really trying to get the federal government to make an exception to this,” he said.

“Our bags contain no plastic.”

In October, in response to LiveWire Calgary questions, the federal government said that even so-called compostable bags require specific conditions to break down in the environment.

“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 at that time.

Change.org petition had more than 18,000 signatures

A petition had been launched by Calgary Co-op in July, on Change.org which now has more than 18,000 signatures.

Keelor said that the cooperative’s petition had been broadly supported by Calgary City council, and Calgary Co-op members.

“The Mayor, our councillors, and our city team are all in support of us. Our members, of course, many of them have actually signed even a petition to have these bags around,” Keelor said.

“The reaction is, you know, a lot of them look at us and say this is this is ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. You know, it doesn’t make any sense. So they’re very much in support. However until things actually change, people don’t all feel the pinch, and we want to make sure we don’t have to make this change.”

The petition became a political flash-point however in August, after was picked up by Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Gardner, and former MLA and publisher of the Western Standard Derek Fildebrandt in August, as a way to criticize the federal Liberal Party.

Keelor emphasized that the goal of Calgary Co-op was to ensure that there were productive conversations with the federal government over their product.

“The good news is the door has never been closed on either side. [Environment and Climate Change Canada] which is the governing body that has worked on this, has always been talking with us through this entire process,” he said.

“There was consultation a few years ago, however, the the exception for Calgary was never made. We believe that this is an opportunity for both parties to get back to the table.”

Reaction uncertain

The reaction to the court ruling, and whether that would re-open the possibility of continuing to use the compostable bags, was an uncertain one said Keelor.

“They obviously have the opportunity to appeal this, but we think it’s the right decision,” he said.

Keelor said that they would continue to advocate on behalf of the product through their partnership in the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

“We’ve been working very hard with the CFIG on this subject from the very start because we’re an independent grocer. They’ve been doing a lot of work on our behalf with the government.”

Alberta’s Minister of Finance, Nate Horner, speaking to the business community on Nov. 17 said that the Alberta Government hasn’t seen much movement from the federal government on the issue.

“We’ll continue to monitor that and continue to let them know that we think a shift is warranted,” he said.