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Calgary's new single-use items bylaw sparks calls for repeal

A new Calgary bylaw stipulating that all retail shops, grocers, restaurants, cafes and drive-thrus must charge for bags came into effect Jan. 16. The bylaw also requires that businesses ask their customers if they want accessories, like napkins, straws and cutlery, rather than automatically supplying them.   (The Canadian Press - image credit)
A new Calgary bylaw stipulating that all retail shops, grocers, restaurants, cafes and drive-thrus must charge for bags came into effect Jan. 16. The bylaw also requires that businesses ask their customers if they want accessories, like napkins, straws and cutlery, rather than automatically supplying them. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

Debate is growing about Calgary's new single-use items bylaw. The bylaw came into effect on Jan. 16 and requires businesses to charge minimum fees to provide bags — and to not provide foodware, straws and other items unless customers ask for them.

Some city councillors say the law needs to be changed or scrapped, and Premier Danielle Smith has waded in on the topic, criticizing the new rules in a Calgary Herald column, in which she encouraged residents to "call your councillor and call your mayor and tell them what you think."

The intent of the new rules is to reduce the amount of waste going into city landfills. Right now, there are 15 million single-use items heading to the dump every week, according to the city.

Coun. Andre Chabot opposed the bylaw when it was passed last year and he's hearing a lot of complaints about how it's working.

"Just this morning alone, I received over 50 emails asking us to repeal the bylaw," Chabot told CBC News on Friday.

"Mostly I've heard from folks saying they think it's ridiculous that they have to ask for a napkin or that they have to ask for a spoon, or that they have to ask for a straw."

The Ward 10 councillor says the whole idea of diverting waste is lost in this bylaw, since so many of the items targeted would have gone into green bins, not landfills.

"The whole thing needs to be looked at and potentially either amended or scrapped altogether."

'Bylaw lacks logic'

Coun. Jennifer Wyness, who represents Ward 2, agrees. She says she will bring forward a motion to scrap the bylaw at a February council meeting.

"We are hearing that this bylaw lacks logic, that it has made it more unaffordable to live in the city … that people don't understand what we're trying to accomplish here, and they're extremely frustrated at our council for not listening to Calgarians," Wyness said in an interview Friday.

She said the additional costs associated with the bylaw are particularly hard-hitting for seniors and people on fixed incomes.

"I've heard from seniors that can no longer take their grandkids to fast-food restaurants, and they're devastated because that was something they enjoyed doing," she told CBC News.

"We've set a bunch of anger loose in our city."

Another city councillor, however, believes the anger is being manipulated.

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said she wasn't hearing any concerns about the new bylaw until "the email bombardment" hit on Friday morning.

"There is a group that has decided to make this an issue, and they've asked other people to make it an issue as well," Penner said.

"There are those who are enraged and outraged because that's what someone told them to be."

She said she's had conversations with business owners and other Calgarians about the new rules, and the sense she gets is that it's inconsequential to them, since so many are used to bringing their own reusable bags and have utensils at home for their takeout.

"The inconvenience level is very minimal and very low," Penner said.

"And they also understand the need to reduce waste."

Penner acknowledges the city could have done a better job communicating with Calgarians about the changes, but she thinks repealing or rewriting the bylaw would be an overreaction.

"I think jumping to a conclusion to repeal something or change something because there's a learning curve, that's reactionary. It's probably an overstep," she said.

Opinions mixed

Opinions about the new bylaw were mixed among the shoppers CBC News talked to at North Hill Mall in northwest Calgary.

Graham Dowey, who was exiting the shopping centre with his arms full of groceries, left no doubt about his feelings.

"I don't like it. So I carry my stuff," he said.

He said he would support the city if it decided to repeal the new rules, "as long as it didn't cost me money."

Dana Fisher said he just paid 15 cents for a paper bag at McDonald's and wasn't impressed. But he felt he had no other choice.

"What am I supposed to do … put it all in my hands to go out of the store? It's wrong," Fisher said.

"I know 15 cents is not a lot of money, but on top of everything else nowadays, it's getting quite pricey to live here. It really is."

But for shopper Tatiana Poplavska, doing something about reducing waste was more important than inconvenience.

"I fully support the idea not to waste too much paper or plastic. We are all responsible for the environment problem," said Poplavska.

John Artacho felt much the same, with one small reservation.

"For the environment, it's good. It's just that sometimes I forget to bring my bags."