Edmonton grocery store owner reignites debate over plastic bag ban

A grocery store owner in Edmonton wants to bring the battle to ban plastic bags back to city hall.

City council last debated a bag ban in 2008

A recent plastic bag ban in Montreal has ignited the debate once more in Edmonton. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

An Edmonton grocery store owner wants to bring the battle to ban plastic bags back to city hall.

More than 1,100 people have signed Earth's General Store owner Michael Kalmanovitch's petition asking Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and city council to reconsider their stance on single-use plastic bags.

"There's no such thing as a free plastic bag," Kalmanovitch told CBC News. "It's a cost to the environment, its a cost to a business ... and those are hidden costs."

At his own business, Kalmanovitch does not provide single-use plastic bags. Instead, he offers reusable plastic bags, boxes and fabric totes for his customers to use.

Kalmanovitch was first moved to action when Bangladesh banned single-use bags in 2002 because they were clogging the country's drainage systems.

The World Economic Forum predicted in 2016 that the world's oceans would contain more plastics than fish by 2050. 

Kalmanovitch said he will be meeting with Coun. Ben Henderson later this month to discuss bringing his petition to city council.

Recent bans reignite debate in Edmonton

Kalmanovitch credits the success of his current petition to the bans recently put in place in other municipalities across the country.

On Jan. 1, Montreal outlawed lightweight plastic shopping bags less than 0.05 millimetres thick. The municipality also passed a bylaw that would penalize retailers that continue to hand out the thin bags after June 5.

Smaller municipalities have also banned the bag across the country, including Thompson, Man., Leaf Rapids, Man., Huntingdon, Que. and Fort McMurray.

 Victoria, B.C. is set to put a ban in place by July 1.

Montreal's new bylaw will hopefully revitalize interest in an Edmonton ban, Kalmanovitch said.

"This is something that will not come from the general public; it will come from legislators or councillors saying this is smart, this is good for the environment." 

In 2013, there were over 581 million plastic bags distributed in Alberta, a significant decrease from the 900 million the province counted in 2008. 

City researched ban in 2008

Council thoroughly researched a potential bag ban in 2008, said Kristin Wagner, spokesperson for the City of Edmonton. 

Council decided in a later meeting that banning single-use bags in the city would be too "onerous" for consumers and merchants and "too difficult" to regulate, she wrote in a statement to CBC News.

Instead, the city put in place measures to limit the waste created by single-use bags, including an education campaign to teach residents the difference between garbage and recycling.

However, Coun. Henderson said the city should be reopening the debate.

"They're remarkably wasteful," he said. "It feels like we haven't made as much progress as I think we would want to have had."  

Some retailers, like London Drugs, charge customers a flat price for each single-use bag. Henderson said this system might be more effective for the city instead of a full ban. 

Plastic is city's most common litter

Plastic bags recycled in blue bins are driven straight to the city's material recovery facility where they are transformed into bales of compact film plastic and re-sold to various buyers

The facility recycles 87 tonnes of film plastic every year, said Michael Robinson, contract manager for the facility.

"The biggest impact, when we talk about plastic bag bans, is the environmental impact from the material that's either lost or littered," he said. 

Plastic continues to be the city's most common type of litter. Plastic accounted for 10.7 per cent of the city's large litter in 2017, down from 18.5 per cent in 2016, according to a 2017 city report.

Wagner said the city continues to educate Edmontonians about waste disposal. When it comes to plastic bags, she said stuffing one plastic bag full of others and tieing it shut will make the sorting process easier for workers at the recovery facility.

anna.desmarais@cbc.ca

@anna_desmarais

With files from Jay Turnbull