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Single-use bag, utensil rules and fees begin in Calgary

The city’s new single-use bylaw for bags, utensils, napkins and more went into effect on Jan. 16, meaning Calgarians will pay a fee for bags and will need to ask for any extras in their delivery, drive-thru and takeout orders.

As of Tuesday, businesses will charge a mandatory minimum fee of 15 cents for a new paper shopping bag and one dollar for a reusable bag – and they will only be given if a customer asks for one.

The bylaw was approved by city council last year to cut down on the single-use waste in Calgary.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Ward 13 councillor Dan McLean, who voted against the bylaw last year.

“I doubt (McDonald’s) is going to start lowering the price of Big Macs when they are not giving you a bag.”

Single-use utensils, condiments, napkins and paper straws will also only be available by request under the new rules.

“Let’s choose to say no to things like unneeded shopping bags or extra condiment packets and cutlery and get in the habit of bringing our own reusable options instead,” said Sharon Howland with the City of Calgary.

“The big issue is many of them are not recyclable. Many of them are not compostable. They often end up as litter on our streets or in the river.”

Howland adds that the biggest change for consumers will be at the drive-thru.

“I see jammed in there a handful of ketchups, a handful of napkins, a bunch of straws and plastic cutlery, that sort of thing,” she said.

“Under the new bylaw, what we’re trying to do is reduce that waste.”

Cluck N Cleaver co-owner Francine Gomes says her business relies on paper bags and takeout containers for their customers.

“The intention is there,” she said.

“I just think the rollout has a few more kinks to be worked through.”

She says her pricing already accounts for extra costs, and now businesses could be left dealing with unimpressed customers.

“Would you like a bag, when it’s takeout food is obviously problematic in the conversation,” she said.

“It’s going to ultimately fall on the businesses to make sure that this works.”

According to the city, more than 10 million single-use items are thrown away every week, with most ending up in landfills or as litter.

“These are things that we know that both retail and restaurant operators, as well as Calgarians, will have to grow accustomed to and so there may be a period of frustration,” said John Graham, the Retail Council of Canada’s director of government relations for the prairie region.

“Retail stores have been winding down the inventory that they’ve had for plastic bags (in anticipation of the federal government’s plastic ban) late last year, as well as preparing for, in some cases to the need for paper bags or the introduction of fees and ample supply and processes to accept reusable bags,” Graham said.

For The Hidden Gem Market in Kensington, owner Victor Tipper says he still doesn’t believe every business is aware of what is allowed and what isn’t.

“Essentially we have 90 businesses in the business here,” he said.

“And a lot of them are doing creations that are having to do with plastics and single use. So if they’ve created something we have to watch for that now we have to look for that now is that approved or not approved?”

The city says pre-packaged items will not count towards the bylaw.

The extra fees will not apply to bags used for bulk items, such as fruits and vegetables; bulk hardware items, unpackaged bakery goods, bags used to wrap meat, fish and frozen foods; packaged prescription drugs and bags used to protect items such as newspapers, dry cleaning and plants.

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