A city committee is set to discuss a single-use items reduction strategy that would see the price of paper bags and new reusable bags increase in an effort to encourage less waste.
The proposed bylaw would require Calgary businesses to charge a minimum fee of $0.15 for paper shopping bags, $1 for new reusable shopping bags and ensure their paper shopping bags contain at least 40 per cent recycled materials. There would be a second increase in price a year after the bylaw came into effect which would bump the costs to a minimum $0.25 for paper bags and $2 for new reusable bags.
The strategy would also implement a “by request” requirement for all foodware items like straws, stir sticks, utensils and toothpicks — regardless of their material. This would also include pre-packaged condiments and napkins.
Coun. Richard Pootmans said he’s looking forward to the discussion the community development committee will have on the strategy during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Mixed feelings, but I think that it’s probably the right direction to go,” Pootmans said on Monday.
He said many people have already changed their habits to bring reusable bags when they head to the grocery store. He wants more information from city administration about how the federal government’s plastic ban would work with the proposed local bylaw.
The recommendation to the committee by city administration comes after the federal government has approved bans on many single-use plastic items. By the end of this year, companies will be banned from importing or making plastic bags, takeout containers and four other plastic categories.
A waste composition study completed in Calgary in 2019 found that approximately 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 the residential and commercial garbage streams every week.
With the ban on plastic items at the federal level, the proposed bylaw in Calgary would instead concentrate on reduction and the substitution of single-use plastic items that will occur.
“The focus is on reducing waste from single-use items independent of composition — not simply replacing single-use plastic items with single-use items made from other materials (even if they are recyclable or compostable),” the report from city administration says.
According to a waste reduction survey done by the city in 2021 and 2022, 91 per cent of Calgarians think the city should play a role in reducing waste from single-use items, through education, outreach and development of regulations for businesses.
The waste reduction survey indicated 87 per cent of Calgarians bring their own shopping bags to the grocery store always or most of the time.
The report by city administration says that promoting reusable products, reducing the use of single-use products of any material and ensuring the lowest impact end-of-life scenario will lower Calgary’s environmental footprint.
Coun. Jennifer Wyness said the proposal feels like “clickbait policy” that the federal government has already initiated.
“We have Co-op who has come up with a compostable bag and we would be penalizing that innovation,” said Wyness. “What is the problem we’re trying to solve and how are we actually incentivizing innovation? I don’t think this does it.”
If the strategy is approved, the city’s waste and recycling services will work with the engagement team and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) to better understand how the city can support the transition and address concerns.
“Given the federal government has the most power to truly make a change in Canada, and that businesses are already adapting and making changes in this field, I feel some of the ideas here are not solutions,” said Wyness.
“What are we accomplishing? What we’re doing when we start adding fees to these bags is adding to the profit margins of corporations. How do we make sure we’re not just incentivizing more profits for companies?”
Angela McIntyre with the Calgary Climate Hub said the group supports policy decisions about reducing waste like this one.
She added, however, that this strategy on single-use items seems trite when compared to the much larger environmental impacts of other city decisions, like expanding suburbs, especially after the current city council declared a state of climate emergency.
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Robert Tremblay, also with Calgary Climate Hub, said it’s good for the environment and climate for the city to encourage less shopping bag and foodware waste.
“It does seem short-sighted to swap out one single-use thing for another single-use thing, so I think it’s good to focus on moving towards a circular economy model rather than just switching up plastics for paper,” he said.
“It’s important to reduce our use of landfills. Using reusable shopping bags just makes a lot of sense.”
Edmonton’s city council is in discussions about a similar bylaw that would see the minimum price of paper bags rise to $0.25 and reusable bags to $2, with an exemption for charities. If passed by council, the bylaw would come into effect in July 2023.
The bylaw in Edmonton would also require restaurants to serve drinks in reusable cups for dine-in service and create policies for handling reusable dishware. A public hearing on the proposed bylaw is scheduled in October.
In an effort to reduce the impact Calgary’s proposed bylaw might have, city administration says charities would be exempt from the bag fees, stores would be encouraged to accept donations of bags for a bag-share program and the city would look into a free reusable bag system for low-income locals.
If the strategy is approved by Calgary’s community development committee, it would go to council for a final vote at the next combined meeting. The bylaw would take effect in early 2024 if passed by council.
— With files from Michael Rodriguez