Calgary council votes to take aim at single-use plastic waste

It’s not every day an 11-year-old Calgarian steps forward to speak at a public hearing in the city council chamber.

But on Wednesday, Willa Vipond was at the microphone. She skipped school to speak to the councillors because she said she cares about the environment and climate change.

She took aim at single-use items that she said are generating too much garbage in Calgary.

“I want to help get rid of single-use plastics in Calgary,” she said, recounting how she recently took part in a highway clean-up event.

“We found plastic water bottles, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, plastic coffee cup lids and more. Every half kilometre, we filled five giant garbage bags.”

‘I want to help get rid of single use plastics in Calgary,’ said 11-year-old Calgary resident Willa Vipond. (Scott Dippel, CBC)

Vipond encouraged the committee to move toward banning single-use plastics.

Plastics a global problem

City officials say waste from plastic bags, coffee cups, straws and take-out containers is an issue.

The leader of strategic planning with the city’s waste and recycling services, Kate Trajan, said single-use items are a global problem. 

But it’s something the city sees every day.

The items make up two per cent of the material that winds up getting buried in city landfills. It’s a different story elsewhere in the city.

“If we are looking at garbage bins out beside the LRT station or a bus stop, it can be as much as 30 or 40 per cent of the volume of waste in there are single-use items,” said Trajan.

Officials in waste and recycling told the committee there are ways to cut down on the waste.

Numerous strategies

Some of the items can be banned as some municipalities have done. Fees can be placed on them as some stores have started doing in Calgary on plastic bags.

Trajan said businesses could only offer single-use items if customers ask for them.

Alternatively, the city could bring in mandatory reduction plans which would have businesses determine how to reduce single-use items and report on their progress.

Administration estimates it needs more than a year to come up with a preferred recommendation for city council as it must first research the issue, engage with the community and develop communication strategies on how to help a strategy succeed.

The cost of developing the strategy would be $250,000 to $300,000. 

Action needed but not haste, says councillor

The chair of the utilities and corporate services committee, Coun. Ward Sutherland, supports the proposal.

But he cautions the city has to move carefully, not necessarily quickly.

Coun. Ward Sutherland supports the idea of the city developing a strategy to deal with single-use plastics. (Mark Matulis/CBC)

For example, the Canadian Plastic Bag Association filed a court challenge against the City of Victoria’s ban on plastic bags.

“Why don’t we do it tomorrow? Well, it’s not that simple because there are laws. We could be in lawsuits, etc., right away which is not a smart use of our money, so we’ve got to come up with the best way to approach it,” said Sutherland.

Only one member of the committee, Coun. Jeromy Farkas, voted against the recommendation to develop a reduction strategy, not because he’s against taking steps to reduce waste from single-use items but because he’s against government taking the lead on this.

Farkas doesn’t like the cost associated with producing another report.

“Given that industry is going in this direction anyway, I just felt it was better for me as a council member to stay out of this for the moment at least, just because I didn’t want to increase the cost for business and consumers at this point.” 

City council will discuss the proposal later this month.