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Is Calgary’s single-use items bylaw a step in the right direction?

By Ava Zardynezhad, February 1 2023

Late last year, the City of Calgary proposed a bylaw to reduce single-use items that contribute to city waste. This strategy has many components, the main two of which include a mandatory fee on single-use shopping bags and a “by request” requirement on all single-use utensils. It’s fair to say this bylaw caused quite the ruckus, leading the City of Calgary to hold a public hearing with the city council in mid-January. The bylaw is set to come into effect in 2024. 

The federal government has already banned the manufacturing of single-use plastics and will phase out the sale of these items by the end of 2023. The municipal bylaw will serve in tandem with regulations set by the Canadian government. 

Banning large-scale production of single-use plastics is generally a step in the right direction. Moving towards more sustainable raw materials in the production of most everyday use and household items can go a long way. 

For a long time, the onus for “being green” or decreasing “carbon footprints” has been put on individuals. Over the years, urges to use public transit and cycling as alternatives to personal vehicles have been nothing more than futile, as no efforts have been made on a municipal level to make public transit more accessible or civil infrastructure safer for alternative modes of transportation. Similarly, the responsibility of “going green” has fallen onto the individual when it comes to single-use plastics. So, finally seeing some involvement from the government through regulations of businesses and their practices, makes one think there’s hope for a collective approach to issues of sustainability. 

However, municipal bans only go so far. The bylaw suggested by the city is completely arbitrary and with the exception of a universal, regulated price for single-use shopping bags, offers little else. 

Favourable or not, we live in a fast-paced, consumerist, capitalist society. Where bringing your own mug to Tim Hortons for coffee during the morning rush means very little, when you can just put your order in through the app and pick it up at the drive-thru. Though I have little respect or support for this system, it is the reality of our lives. Moreover, expecting every person to respect that procedure will be impossible within the walls of our system and would once again put the onus on the individual. Instead, government-imposed use of sustainable material by food and manufacturing companies, while not quite idealistic, does present a pretty reasonable solution to the single-use cup conundrum. 

Now, the bylaw is not imposing any changes to cups. Moreover, most food franchises use recyclable cups at this moment regardless. However, this serves as an example of how governments can take collective action to address the issue of single-use plastics as opposed to transferring the burden onto the user. 

You might be thinking now, for a mandate of this magnitude, funds are needed — and you would be right. Let me give a real example this time. Based on the council report on the strategy, the municipal government is proposing that stores charge a minimum fee of $0.15 for paper shopping bags and $1 for new reusable shopping bags. This will then increase to $0.25 per paper shopping bag and $2 per new reusable shopping bag one year after the bylaw comes into effect. If instead of municipal regulations on these fees, the federal government imposes a regulated, taxable fee, could the resulting funds not be used in supporting and regulating the production and distribution of more sustainable single-use shopping bags? Perhaps, proper allocation of public funds and appropriate taxation policies could alleviate the financial burden of such ventures. 

Banning single-use plastics, which only includes shopping bags and utensils, on a municipal level, while ignoring single-use plastics used in the packaging of products sold in stores every day, is nothing more than futile. As important as regional collaboration and support is to federal regulations, isolating the “easy” tasks — through transferring the burden rather than treating root causes — would only be moving sideways.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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