How Edmonton’s new single-use item bylaw affects your drive-thru order

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s single-use item bylaw starts July 1'
Edmonton’s single-use item bylaw starts July 1
More changes are coming for everything from plastic bags to utensils. Edmonton’s single-use plastic ban starts in July. Alison Abbink, the City of Edmonton’s waste reduction lead, joined ‘Global News at Noon Edmonton’ to break down what’s changing and how that could affect you. – Jun 27, 2023

Bringing reusable shopping bags to the grocery store is one thing but how is Edmonton’s new single-use item bylaw affecting restaurant drive-thrus?

As of July 1, single-use plastic shopping bags can no longer be handed out, and:

  • Businesses must charge at least 15 cents for a paper shopping bag and at least $1 for a new reusable shopping bag;
  • Styrofoam plates, cups and containers can no longer be used;
  • Restaurants must serve dine-in drink orders in reusable cups and have a written policy for accepting reusable customer cups;
  • Accessories such as utensils, straws, condiment packets and napkins will only be available by request or self-serve.

These minimum fees will increase on July 1, 2024 to 25 cents for a paper bag and $2 for a new reusable bag.

The bylaw does not apply to bags used for containing these types of items:

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  • All types of bulk items, from candy to screws;
  • Produce, baked goods and other unpackaged foods;
  • Medications from a pharmacist.

According to Alison Abbink, the city’s waste services’ waste reduction lead, a drive-thru bag that contains the food order is considered a shopping bag under the bylaw.

Businesses are not allowed to provide take-out food in single-use plastic bags, and, if needed by the customer or provided by the restaurant, a paper bag can be provided at a 15-cent fee.

“The minimum charge of 15 cents is retained by the restaurant to help offset the paper bag cost,” Abbink said.

Food wrappings such as burger boxes, fry packaging, pre-packaged cookies, paper or plastic wrapping for wraps and donairs are considered “primary packaging” and not “shopping bags” and are allowed.

Click to play video: 'Is Canada’s single-use plastic ban truly environmentally friendly?'
Is Canada’s single-use plastic ban truly environmentally friendly?

Bruce Nelson ordered food at an Edmonton drive-thru restaurant on Monday and he wasn’t charged extra for the paper bag his burger and fries were packaged in.

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“No. They didn’t say a word,” he said. “They didn’t charge for a bag, no.”

The city’s website says the bylaw does not apply to bags used for containing “unpackaged foods” but that customers are encouraged to reduce waste by providing their own clean takeout container.

Click to play video: 'Edmontonians adjusting to new single-use item rules'
Edmontonians adjusting to new single-use item rules

While drive-thru and take-out habits may take some time to adapt to, consumers and businesses have warmed up to the idea of reusable shopping bags at grocery stores.

“I’ve been to the grocery store, that’s no problem,” Nelson said. “We always have our reusable bags with us. “It’s a step in the right direction, keep the stuff out of the landfill, it’s that simple,” Nelson said.

“So far, so good,” said Teresa Spinelli, president of the Italian Centre. “We haven’t had any complaints, which has been really good. One of my cashiers told me we just sold a whole bunch of the reusable bags, so that’s really exciting.”

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Spinelli said replacing the shops’ bags with reusable shopping bags was difficult and the new bags only just arrived in time.

“It was really hard to find the right bag and get it in time. That was a real challenge for us,” she said.

“We still had some plastic bags. We were able to ship those out to Calgary and Sherwood Park because that bylaw doesn’t come into effect until December, so it worked out.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton to ban single-use plastics starting July 1'
Edmonton to ban single-use plastics starting July 1

But she said customers haven’t been surprised. The store has had signs up, warning of the change, for months.

“There is no plastic, so you couldn’t even pay for it if you wanted it. But there is a reusable bag and those are much more expensive… they’re $1.”

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Before the pandemic, Spinelli said, the Italian Centre started working on sustainable initiatives with the city, everything from using reusable cups to more energy efficient lightbulbs.

“We are ready, we’re looking at those kinds of initiatives. And we started charging for bags… We’ve saved over a million plastic bags, so that was pretty amazing.”

Click to play video: 'Lose the litter this school year with GreenUP'
Lose the litter this school year with GreenUP

“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” said shopper Rebecca Starr. “Just because it was better than plastic,” she said, adding that plastic bags sometimes tear with heavier items. “I always bring my own reusable bags anyway… It won’t probably affect me that much.”

However, one restaurant server told Global News there’s been some negative feedback from customers about takeout container options.


The city said Edmonton throws out 450 million single-use items each year, resulting in 10,000 tonnes of waste.


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