Edmonton

Edmonton inches toward banning single-use items

Edmonton is closer to banning disposable plastic bags, cups, containers and some utensils after city council gave its initial thumbs-up Monday to a proposed bylaw on single-use items. 

Council gives first nod to bylaw banning plastic bags, Styrofoam containers

The city bylaw would prohibit businesses from giving out plastic bags and demand they charge customers for paper bags. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Edmonton is closer to banning disposable plastic bags, cups and containers after city council gave its initial thumbs-up Monday to a proposed bylaw on single-use items. 

The bylaw would prohibit businesses from giving out single-use plastic shopping bags and from serving take-out food and drinks in Styrofoam containers.

Businesses will be required to charge a minimum fee for paper bags and reusable bags.

Disposable utensils, straws and napkins can only be given out when customers ask for them. 

When might the ban start?

Council unanimously passed first reading of the bylaw during a meeting at city hall. 

The public will have a chance to give feedback at a public hearing in September before council can give it second and third readings and put it to a vote.

If passed, the new rules would take effect July 1, 2023. 

Coun. Aaron Paquette said he is optimistic the bylaw will pass and help reduce waste. 

"It'll cut down on junk — on the litter on the filthy boulevards and the roadsides, to some extent," he said.

Paquette said the single-use disposable "way of living" isn't sustainable, nor is recycling the answer. 

"We'll still need it, we'll still engage in it but there's a limited amount of times plastic can be recycled and there's also limited amounts of plastic that can be recycled for a first time." 

The city says each year, Edmontonians throw away an estimated 450 million single-use items, from straws and coffee cups to shopping bags and takeout containers. Most end up in the waste collection system but others are littered on streets and in parks.

Under the bylaw, restaurants and cafes will have to serve dine-in drink orders in reusable cups and develop a policy to accept customer-supplied reusable cups.

The ban covers items made from a range of materials, including conventional plastics, alternative plastics that may be compostable or biodegradable, wood, bamboo and paper.

If passed, businesses would have to charge 15 cents for paper bags starting July 1, 2023 and charge 25 cents after July 1, 2024.

Personal protective equipment, like face masks, is not included in the bylaw, the report says. 

Charitable exemptions

Charitable organizations that serve a social purpose, like providing emergency shelter, meals, groceries, clothing or hygiene products to vulnerable residents, would be exempt. 

Meals on Wheels, for example, uses plastic bags to package and deliver hundreds of meals a day. 

Sonja Zacharko, executive director for Meals on Wheels Edmonton, said they appreciate the buffer zone while they look for other ways to deliver food. 
     
"We don't like using plastic. We'd love to get away from it," she told CBC News Tuesday. 

No fees for cups, containers

Sean Stepchuk, a co-founder of Waste Free Edmonton, said his organization is pleased that the city is taking a broad approach with the materials outlined in the bylaw. 

"We hope that this will not only cause a direct reduction in waste, but will also generate a conversation whereby people and businesses consider waste impacts more generally when making decisions," he said.

The non-profit organization has been advocating for a comprehensive single-use item bylaw for years, he noted. 

The proposed bylaw doesn't include fees for cups and containers and Stepchuk said that's something he'd like to see added in the future. 

Time to transition 

The federal government will ban single-use plastics, including checkout bags, cutlery, takeout ware, stir sticks and straws, but some of those bans will take time to go into effect. 

The federal rules prohibit companies from making and importing most of the plastics by the end of this year, but goods currently in the system can be sold for another year. 

Christina Hodgson, a lawyer with the city, said Edmonton can make changes along with the federal legislation if needed. 

"We think getting this bylaw out to really hit 80 per cent — really, the large issues — is a really good step forward for right now," Hodgson said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natasha Riebe

Journalist

Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.

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