Edmonton city council has moved to ban some single-use plastic items and Styrofoam containers by next summer.
The bylaw approved Wednesday will ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags and will impose a mandatory minimum fee of 15 cents on new paper shopping bags and $1 for new reusable shopping bags. These fees will increase on July 1, 2024 to 25 cents for a paper bag and $2 for a new reusable bag.
Styrofoam containers will also be banned.
In addition, customers at restaurants will be required to ask for single-use accessories like utensils made of any material. Restaurants must serve dine-in drink orders in reusable cups, and restaurants and event organizers must develop policies to allow customers to bring their own reusable drink cups.
The bylaw takes effect July 1, 2023.
“We want to make sure that we are doing whatever we can possibly do to reduce the use of these single-use items,” Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said.
Every year, Edmontonians discard an estimated 450 million single-use items such as shopping bags, takeout containers, cups, utensils and straws. The majority of these items end up in landfills, but they also end up littering streets, parks and other open spaces.
“I think it will allow Edmontonians to, first of all, understand how damaging those single-use items can be to our environment,” Sohi said. “But also, the sightliness of our city. When you go for a walk — I don’t know if it’s just me — but I’m noticing more and more litter on our streets, in our parks, in our river valley.”
The city said while the bylaw can be enforced, it will take an education-first approach to ensure Edmontonians are aware of the rules.
“It’s important. We have so much work to do as a city to reduce waste, to divert waste from landfills and this is one small part of that,” Nakota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack said.
The federal government has moved to ban Canadian companies from importing or making plastic bags and takeout containers by the end of this year. By the end of 2023, the sale of these items will also be prohibited in Canada.
While the city acknowledges the federal ban, Knack said the city bylaw goes a bit further than the federal rules and will come into place six months before the federal ban.
“It really does try to strive for greater reuse and it’s not just stopping people from throwing out, it’s also trying to make sure we’re all working towards that stage of carrying a few extra reusable bags,” Knack said.
The city said the July 1, 2023, implementation date will also give businesses time to adapt to the new rules.
“Our city administration engaged with businesses, I regularly talk to businesses,” Sohi said. “I have not heard any concerns from business leaders on this, but we will continue to provide them the necessary tools available, educational opportunities and options that will help them adjust to some of the changes.”
Knack said he didn’t hear much pushback from his constituents on the topic, receiving maybe two or three emails over the last year, which he said is shockingly low.
“We’re at that point now where we all generally realize we’ve got to do this for our environment. We’ve got to reduce the amount of things we put out in waste,” he said. “It’ll be a little bit inconvenient at the start, like some of these changes are, but then very soon we’re going to get the hang of it.
“Even when I’m doing grocery shopping, I’m thinking about the products I’m buying and how much waste that will produce. Because I realize if I’m not thinking of that, that can have a much broader impact.”
Teresa Spinelli, president of Edmonton’s Italian Centre Shop, said it’s a really good move.
“The city was forward thinking, which is really good because we know federally we’re going to have to go that way,” she said, adding her business had already started eliminating single-use plastics.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the company started charging for plastic bags. Spinelli said in one year, their four locations saved about one million plastic bags.
“We were part of City of Edmonton’s corporate leadership on climate change. So we already started looking at a lot of initiatives and what we can do better to support the environment. Because obviously everything that’s good for the environment is good for everybody.”
The company purchased new bags, although Spinelli admits it’s been difficult to find products to replace plastic cutlery.
“Since COVID, there’s been a big shortage of containers and utensils, that’s going to be our biggest issue,” she said.
“Containers — the biodegradable containers — there’s always a shortage,” Spinelli continues. “And expensive. Things like bamboo are more expensive than regular plastic.”
Spinelli said they’re doing their best not to pass on the extra costs to customers, but admits at the end of the day, it may happen.
Read more: Easy ways to cut your family’s plastic waste
Christine Gossain, owner of Crum Coffee Bar, said her business has also already started the transition away from plastics. She said the shift has been pretty simple.
“It would mean just ordering different product,” Gossain said. “I actually like it. I’ve always been someone who’s always preferred to reduce waste.
“Everyone knew this was coming, so all of the places that I already order from, they’ve already brought in the alternative stuff and we’ve already started doing it. We’ve kind of preemptively already banned — as much as we can — the plastics… we’ve already transitioned.”
Gossain said their straws, cups, containers and utensils are now going to be corn-based.
“They are way more expensive. You have to readjust your pricing based on that, which we’ve already done,” she said. “The straws, the cups, the lids, those things are way more expensive than the plastic.”
Gossain encourages her customers to bring in their own reusable cups and containers.
“Some people bring in their own Tupperware, which I love, not only because on a business end, you’re actually saving on cost, but I hate waste. So I’m actually a big fan of this.”
The co-founder of Waste Free Edmonton is also pleased with the new bylaw.
“It means that businesses and individuals are going to have to make the changes that a lot of businesses and individuals have already made in order to get these single-use items largely out of our lives, out of our environment and out of our landfills,” Sean Stepchuk said.
“There’s still steps to take but it’s certainly it’s a huge milestone.”
More information on the bylaw can be found on the city’s website.
— with files from Emily Mertz, Global News.