government policies, such as a city proposal that would see
Calgarians face fees when they need new shopping bags at the mall,
corner shop or grocery store.
A council committee this week backed a proposed levy that would
require businesses to charge shoppers 15 cents for each paper bag
they require, or $1 for a new reusable bag.
If passed by city council, these mandatory fees could begin in 2024
and then increase the following year.
The idea is to encourage consumers to bring their own bags to the
store, reuse existing ones, reduce waste from single-use products and
slow down the mountain of garbage heading into local landfills, which
A motion over the proposed plan was backed by the community
development committee on Tuesday and is headed for council on Oct. 4.
It seems like a slam dunk. Ottawa already has federal regulations
coming into place to prohibit single-use plastic items, including
checkout bags and cutlery,
food serviceware (such as takeout containers and plates), stir
sticks, straws and aluminum can ring carriers.
Calgary's bylaw would instead focus on cutting waste from single-use
items regardless of their composition, "even if they are recyclable
or compostable," states a document from city administration.
Customers would also have to request single-use food accessories
(including spoons, napkins or straws) made from any material, instead
of them simply being handed out to all consumers.
"We have used input from Calgarians to develop, shape and refine our
approach," states a report from city administration.
And with 6.4 million plastic forks, knives and spoons already tossed
away in Calgary each week - along with 3.5 million plastic bags - who
could argue against such a strategy?
"Feedback shows that businesses are in support of the bylaws proposed
by the city," states a city document.
"They agree it will build on the measures already being taken by the
business community, creates a level playing field. ... There was no
opposition to the measures, though some local businesses expressed
concerns regarding customer reactions."
Yet, some don't think it's a plan of perfection.
In fact, a call to five separate business groups this week found
varying issues and degrees of concern with the strategy.
"The policy still has a number of pretty rough edges that still need
to be smoothed out before it's totally ready for prime time," said
Scott Crockatt of the Business Council of Alberta, which represents
some of the largest employers in the province.
"Like a knock in your engine or a pop in your knees, any time
governments talk about setting prices, it's usually not a good sign
of things to come."
Hmm, let's try a group that represents many smaller companies, the
Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
"Now is not the time for any government to increase fees on
businesses or consumers. We are in an inflationary period," said
Annie Dormuth of the CFIB.
What about industry groups representing businesses on the front line,
such as restaurants and retailers?
"Our concern is (the) layering of regulations for operators," said
John Graham of the Retail Council of Canada.
"We have a federal plastics reduction strategy. We have some
provinces that have their own provincial regulations, and then we've
got dozens and dozens of municipalities across Canada with their own
Restaurants Canada also has issues with Calgary's proposal, noting
the strategy seems to have been drafted with retailers in mind, not
food service companies.
Imposing a paper bag fee of 15
cents or $1 for a reusable shopping bag to cart around $100 worth of
groceries is a relatively small piece of a bigger bill, but it's a
much larger percentage on a $1.50 muffin, the group told councillors
in an e-mail this week.
"A couple of pieces kind of stood out as a red flag. These are issues
that we had previously discussed with the city," said Jennifer
Henshaw of Restaurants Canada.
"There are certain elements of it that they have got right ... but I
would say that there's some feedback from the restaurant sector that
has been left out."
Now, this isn't to say that businesses oppose the strategy; there are
parts they support.
They point out many companies are already moving aggressively to
reduce waste by shifting away from providing single-use plastic
items, including bags, well before the federal laws kick in. Some
already charge a fee for bags.
According to the city, the proposed bylaw would allow businesses to
keep revenue collected from the mandatory levy on bags.
There is no recommendation to impose a fee on disposable coffee cups,
which other cities have embraced; Henshaw said public education is
the right way to go on that front.
It seems clear that Calgarians want to see overall waste reduced.
The city report noted a recent survey found 87 per cent of Calgarians
say they are already taking their own shopping bag to the grocery
store always or most of the time. It also pointed out 91 per cent of
those surveyed say the city should be involved in single-item
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce likes the idea of having consumers
ask for items such as forks, straws and napkins, instead of it being
handed to all consumers and often scrapped.
That proposal should save them money.
"Some businesses in our community are quite supportive of governments
bringing in these pieces of legislation," said Ruhee Ismail-Teja, the
chamber's director of policy.
"But we also have other business community members that believe it
should be the businesses' prerogative to decide what they want. So
the business community does remain quite mixed."
That much is clear. Businesses still have some concerns that need to
And Coun. Jennifer Wyness, one of two councillors who voted against
the proposed plan on Tuesday, worries about making such changes
without well-defined measurements that show the strategy is making a
"I want those metrics to make sure that it's not just a headline of,
'Let's pat ourselves on the back and do a victory lap,'" she said in
"This file needs more work." Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald
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