Premier Danielle Smith is no fan of the single-use items bylaws in place in Alberta, and has asked the Minister of Municipal Affairs to investigate whether the province has the power to intervene.

“We have had to step in when we think that municipalities are going a step too far on certain issues. And I’ve asked my minister, if he thinks that this is one of those areas,” Smith said during a press event on Jan. 25.

Earlier this month, Calgary became the latest municipality in  Alberta to introduce restrictions on single-use items, such as charging a minimum fee for paper and reusable bags, and providing food ware accessories by request only.

Smith said the bylaw puts ideology ahead of common sense: “I’ve heard that there was a near mutiny on wing night in some restaurants because you have to ask whether or not people want napkins.”

Smith said she has put it to the minister of municipal affairs to determine whether municipalities have gone outside of the realm of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) in their efforts to curb waste.

“I can tell you it’s not happening in every municipality. It just seems that it’s happening in Calgary and Edmonton,” she said.

As far as jurisdictional boundaries are concerned, Alberta Municipalities said in a statement that the MGA is clear: “Municipalities are responsible for waste management. Voters in each municipality decide how their local government handles & reduces their community’s waste.”

Not just Edmonton and Calgary

Though the single-use bylaws passed by Edmonton and Calgary have received the most attention — good and bad — the cities are not alone.

Spruce Grove recently celebrated the second anniversary of its single-use items reduction bylaw that banned plastic bags, polystyrene serving ware, and plastic straws.

On New Years Day, Banff’s single-use reduction bylaw came into effect. Along with minimum charges on bags, businesses are required to provide reusable food ware like plates and utensils for dine-in customers.

So far, the response to the bylaw has been strong and supportive, says Michael Hay, manager of environment for the Town of Banff.

“We kind of call it our ‘Back to Basics’ bylaw, because really the main focus is on just using reusable dishes and other items when dining in. And I think there’s pretty broad support of that in the community and our surveys certainly say that,” Hay said.

Banff draws over 4 million visitors each year, making hospitality and food service core industries in the region. Before the bylaw was introduced, Hay and his team spent over a year consulting with businesses that would be affected, and adjusted the rules based on their feedback.

There are quite a few municipalities across Canada, and North America, that have enacted similar legislation, and the town talks frequently with peer municipalities to learn from their approaches to shared problems, Hay said. Their insights helped get local legislation to a point where the town and business community were comfortable with the level of impact, and “where this is something that we can do as a community rather than something that is being imposed by the municipality.”

Municipalities leading the way

The new rules around single-use items are a continuation of ongoing efforts to divert waste from the National Park and be a “model environmental community,” Hay said.

“In our community plan, really our most important goal is that we’re striving to be a model environmental community. Banff is striving to be an environmental leader, across Canada and across the world,” he said. “We’re trying to show the way things can be done — not necessarily the way things are commonly done.”

Hay said tackling single-use items was an important policy decision because they’re a part of the waste stream that is difficult to divert. Even when they are recyclable or compostable, they tend to end up in the garbage or become litter. Because the lingering scent of food on carelessly discarded cups and utensils draws in wildlife, the single-use reduction bylaw was also related to the town’s goal of protecting wildlife, he said.

Ideologically driven or values-based?

Smith said she thinks single-use bylaws like the one implemented in Calgary put ideology before people. For Hay, the starting point for Banff’s environmental policies are their values, but he adds it’s the community involvement and support that makes sure the policies will work.

“We’re trying to show the world the best way to handle environmental challenges. So in that respect, yes, we start at values. But then very quickly, we move into a long consultation effort with the business community and with the general public.”

“There are aspects of the bylaw that were removed to ensure that it was very much about what is reasonable and practical on the ground. So I think whenever we think about developing policy, it tends to start with values. But in the end, it has to be something that works. So we think we’ve achieved the balance there.”

By Brett McKay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 26, 2024 at 19:20

This item reprinted with permission from   St. Albert Gazette   St. Albert, Alberta

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