It’s a head-scratcher.
That’s what the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (CFIG) is saying about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) decision to include Calgary Co-Op’s 100 per cent compostable bag in its single-use bag ban, which goes into effect in December 2023.
The bag is extremely popular, containing zero per cent plastic that can be used in Calgarians’ green bins, and has also been credited for Calgary Co-Op eliminating nearly 100 million plastic bags at its checkouts since introducing them in 2019.
The grocer eliminated plastic bags in 2020, instead offering a much more sustainable option for its shoppers and now it’s being punished for it, says CFIG vice-president of government relations Gary Sands.
Sands says it doesn’t make sense that the government decision bans the grocer from using the bags at its checkouts but will allow it to sell them in bundles on the shelf by bigger manufacturers.
He says he tried to speak with the government about the decision and was shut down, being told the consultation was already done.
“It’s frustrating,” Sands says, adding the government’s consultation was done during the height of the pandemic when many small and medium-sized businesses were distracted.
“I said, ‘How can I explain that the bags on the shelf sold by multinational corporations are good but the ones at the cash register are bad? That’s ludicrous. It’s just a head-scratcher.”
Sands narrows it down to the fact the feds are not in tune with the reality facing many business owners.
“There’s a real sense that we have a fundamental disconnect between Environment Canada and the realities being faced by small and medium-sized businesses in this country.”
A ‘surprising’ decision
Calgary Co-Op worked with the City of Calgary on the development of the compostable bags, and a recent third-party report provided by the manufacturer of the bags verifies their purity.
While the grocer fully supports a ban on plastic shopping bags, the company was shocked to learn that these compostable bags are to be included in the ban.
“It was certainly surprising,” says Calgary Co-Op director of communications Sage Pullen McIntosh, adding she hopes the government will reconsider.
McIntosh says the brags provide customers with an option to purchase them and then reuse them at home.
“We know they are very popular with our members because they’ve told us. It’s something that other retailers aren’t doing. We know they are well-liked and well-used and do have that double duty of being able to go into the green bins.”
City of Calgary, ECCC chime in
Calgary Co-Op worked closely with the city in developing these compostable bags. They have been tested at the Calgary Composting Facility and do break down in the composting process.
As such, the bags are accepted in the City’s Green Cart food and yard waste program, according to the city’s waste and recycling services program management leader Sharon Howland.
“We encourage Calgarians to use only certified compostable bags in their green carts and to recycle plastic bags by bundling them together into a single plastic bag — don’t forget to tie it closed — and place in their blue carts,” Howland adds.
The ECCC wasn’t able to provide an official for an interview but did provide a statement to Calgary Citizen saying it has prohibited the manufacture, import and sale of six categories of single-use plastics via the Single-use Plastics Prohibitions Regulations.
This includes single-use plastic checkout bags, cutlery, food service ware made from or containing problematic plastics, ring carriers, stir sticks, and straws, with some exemptions.
“In accordance with the government’s evidence-based management framework for single-use plastics, these items were deemed to be prevalent in the environment, pose a threat of harm to wildlife and their habitat, are difficult to recycle and have available alternatives.”
In addition, the statement said, there is currently not a standard definition or use of the term “compostable” for plastic products, and their ability to be composted depends on the waste management systems and infrastructure in place.
Asking for support
With the backing of CFIG, Calgary Co-op has continued to reach out to municipal and provincial government officials asking for their support in keeping the compostable bags at the checkout.
Ken Keelor, CEO of Calgary Co-op, says the company is asking the federal government to review its decision and that the grocer is willing to work with officials to find a solution.
“We know that the language around compostable bags can be confusing for the consumer, and we would be happy to work with Environment and Climate Change Canada regarding plastics labelling standards to ensure compostable bags and their use is clearer for the consumer,” Keelor says.
While Calgary Co-Op has alternative options, it hopes the government reconsiders.
The federal government says it is working with partners and stakeholders to build a knowledge base for bio-based, compostable, and biodegradable plastics.
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