While Canadians could see a ban on single-use plastics by 2021, one Calgary city councillor says the solution to the problem should start with consumers and retailers before the government is forced to step in.

In May 2019, Calgary city councillors voted 6-1 during a utilities committee meeting in favour of developing a strategy to reduce single-use plastics. However, Coun. Jeromy Farkas voted against the plan and said he would rather see innovation than “heavy-handed government approaches.”

Farkas warned that whatever replaces plastic bags might be far worse.

 “Canadians need to be very mindful of unintended consequences of going down that road,” he said.

Farkas’ preferred approach is to let the market drive the process through entrepreneurship and innovation.

Blush Lane Organic Market is an example of a local business taking environmental steps. Over two weeks in May, if you purchased over $50, Blush Lane offered the consumer a free reusable hemp bag.

“The company supports a circular economy through their reusable container programs, which encourage customers to bring in their containers to use in the market’s bulk section,” said Michelle Austin, Blush Lane’s marketing and sustainability coordinator.

Online plastics 3Blush Lane is leading the way to reusing and reducing the amount of plastics consumer’s use.  Photo: Peter Brand

Labelled as one of the top producers of single-use plastics, Tim Hortons is also taking the initiative to re-invent their products for a more sustainable future. Canada’s most famous coffee and doughnut shop pioneered the reusable cup program way back in 1978, introducing the Tim mug. The chain offers guests a discount on coffee to any customer who brings in their cup.

This summer, Tim Hortons will roll out a reusable coffee cup for $1.99. The company will also introduce wooden stir sticks this July and a new lid that President Alex Macedo said is made of polypropylene and is 100 percent recyclable.

Online plastics 2Tim Hortons is one of the top producers of single-use plastics, however the coffee chain is taking the appropriate steps to change their products for a more sustainable future. Photo: Peter Brand

Despite these kinds of efforts, Austin believes that Canadians are missing the main point when it comes to the recycling process. She said many Canadians became misinformed on the entire method.

“The traditional three Rs we all know: ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ are written in that order as a form of hierarchy,” she said.

“Recycle was supposed to be a last resort, but we have made it our first action. Further, our recycling system has proven to be largely ineffective. Roughly 11 percent of material in recycling streams in Canada actually gets recycled. We need to support systems that work by re-imagining the take-make-dispose model of our current system.”

According to Austin, the worst types of plastics are compostable plastics, or bioplastics, because they are mostly not getting composted. Municipal compost facilities cannot handle bioplastics, and the results are that bioplastics are taken out and added to landfills since they do not biodegrade at a similar rate as organic matter.

 Leah Kemppainen works with the City of Calgary waste and recycling department, and she deals with what Austin describes on a day-to-day basis.

“Our goal is to divert 70 percent of the waste from city landfills,” she said.

“Diverting waste from landfills means recycling, composting and reusing items instead of throwing them in the garbage.  By reducing the amount and type of materials that end up in landfills, our landfills last longer and natural resources are conserved. Reducing waste from single-use items would support work by waste and recycling services to lead the community towards zero waste through a focus on reduction and reuse.”

In Farkas’ view, he and other council members need to “lead by example.” He brought in a motion to discontinue bottled water services that council gets during its meetings; a motion that barely passed with eight votes to seven. Farkas also called on the city to reduce single-use plastics for city events.

“I want to make sure that we have a leadership position on this and we have the moral authority first, before we go to tell residents or businesses what they should be doing,” he said.

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