Edmonton hopes to implement plan to reduce single-use items in 2023

Click to play video: 'Edmonton looks to decrease single-use waste with new proposal' Edmonton looks to decrease single-use waste with new proposal
WATCH ABOVE: The city says 91 million disposable cups are thrown out in Edmonton every year, and that needs to change. City administrators are proposing bans on certain single-use items, and surcharges on others. Sarah Ryan breaks it down – Nov 25, 2021

The City of Edmonton’s plan to reduce waste includes a proposal to ban plastic straws and styrofoam and implement a minimum charge of 25 cents for disposable cups.

The city hopes the single-use item reduction plan would be implemented in 2023.

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“Everything is a proposal at this stage,” said Jodi Goebel, the city’s waste strategy director. “We’re working with the business community and key stakeholders in particular to look at the details of our proposal and make sure we understand what the impact to Edmontonians will be.”

First, in winter 2021, the city would consult with businesses and charitable food service providers about the changes. Recommendations would be presented to the utility committee in early 2022 and a draft bylaw developed. Residents and businesses would have the opportunity to speak about the plan at a public hearing before the bylaw would be approved in the latter half of 2022.

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Awareness campaigns would be rolled out prior to the bylaw taking effect and being enforced.

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The proposed changes include:

  • Ban on single-use plastic bags
  • Ban on plastic straws
  • Ban on styrofoam
  • Minimum fee of 15 cents for paper bag
  • Minimum fee of $1 for reusable bag
  • Minimum fee of 25 cents for disposable cup
  • Disposable utensils will only be provided if requested

“Styrofoam is a particularly problematic material,” Goebel said, “and there are alternatives that continue to meet the needs of Edmontonians in a more environmentally sustainable way.

“There are some proposed voluntary measures as well. Some of the accessories that we see a lot of nowadays, things like stir sticks or cup sleeves… we would encourage vendors to use and provide on an as-requested basis.”

Read more: Vancouver prepares businesses to phase out foam ahead of city-wide ban

If fees are charged, the city’s plan would see businesses keeping the revenue to help cover the costs of complying with the new bylaw. The city said registered not-for-profits will not be required to charge fees on single-use items used to provide charitable food services.

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“The intent is that they then take that money and they make a decision about how best to support the impact to their business,” Goebel said, “maybe invest in other alternatives that help to make sure their customers still feel served even if we’re changing the types of materials they get their coffee or takeout in.

“There’s some really good research out of B.C. (that shows) how quickly you can actually save money as a business owner by switching to reusables.

“We know that there’s value in government sometimes pushing change forward but by doing it in a way that’s consistent across all business,” Goebel added.

The city will work closely with not-for-profits to minimize impacts on them. The city is also recommending regulations that accommodate people who need single-use items for accessibility reasons.

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The bylaw would take effect one year after it’s adopted to give businesses and residents time to adjust and, when it comes to enforcement, the city plans to prioritize outreach and education.

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“Part of our approach is really just about leveraging what’s worked in other cities,” Goebel said.

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She said the city has been engaging residents on this issue since 2017 and most people said they want Edmonton to be more environmentally conscious.

“The reality of single-use items, regardless of what they’re made of, is it’s a really intensive way of taking materials, creating a product and then assuming it’s irrelevant and throwing it away.

“Even for materials that are recycled, there is energy that goes into creating the product in the first place, collecting it back for recycling, changing it into something new. And we know there’s so much creativity and design innovation that can make sure products are used hopefully many more than one time.”

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Edmontonians throw away about 91 million disposable cups a year, Goebel said.

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“I would be thrilled to see some of the big players bring a reusable cup program to their restaurants or really push the envelope in the way they’re selecting their materials.”

The city has not yet finalized its recommendations.

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Waste Free Edmonton, a local grassroots organization that has been advocating for a single-use strategy and bylaw for Edmonton since 2018, is supportive of the plan, with some caveats.

“It touches on a number of different low-hanging fruit wasteful items,” said Sean Stepchuk, Waste Free Edmonton co-founder and director.

“We’re very happy that plastic bags are going to be banned for shopping and that there’s going to be a fee on paper bags and reusable bags so that makes it so people will still reduce those other things.

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“We’re extremely happy that there’s a proposed 25-cent minimum fee on disposable cups,” he added.

“These are something we see littering our landscape all over that people use for a very short period of time. they’re not reusable at all, they’re not recyclable , they’re not compostable. So having a 25 cent minimum is going to really encourage people to bring their own reusables.”

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Stepchuk said it’s promising to see this issue hopefully come before city council in 2022.

“We feel very strongly that the city is going to approve this,” he said.

“There remain some areas that the city could take stronger action on, implementation of the proposed plan should lead to a meaningful reduction in waste,” Stepchuk added.

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Waste Free Edmonton suggested a fee for disposable utensils and small condiment packages.

“It is our hope that these restrictions will serve as a starting point for a broader discussion about waste, and lead to individuals and businesses being more conscious of their waste in other areas.”

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City officials estimate 450-million single-use items are thrown out every year in Edmonton — equivalent to 1.2 million items every day.

Single-use items are also often littered, which can damage habitat and harm wildlife.

Edmonton’s 2019 litter audit found that 42 per cent of all large litter items were related to single-use items. The most common items were napkins, cups and straws.

The city said this issue is important to Edmontonians.

“During public engagement, we heard that residents and businesses largely support a ban on plastic shopping bags, eliminating plastic straws, and banning styrofoam cups and containers,” the city’s plan states.

“Furthermore, 81 per cent of residents who engaged want to use fewer disposable cups.”

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