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Reduction of single-use items supported, but businesses cool to mandatory bag fee

Media Type: Print
Outlet: Calgary Herald
Author: Chris Varcoe
Published Date: September 29, 2022
Getting consensus can be a tricky thing when it comes to new

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

is laudable.

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

nuanced bylaws."

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

be addressed.

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

positive difference.

"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

an interview.

"This file needs more work." Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald


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