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City eyes increasing fees on bags; 'Right direction to go' in effort to reduce single-use items: councillor

Media Type: Print
Outlet: Calgary Herald
Author: Stephanie Babych
Published Date: September 27, 2022
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 prepackaged

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


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


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


"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.

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

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 Twitter:


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