When Calgary Co-op introduced a fully compostable bag in April 2019 and eliminated single-use plastic bags in January 2020, we believed strongly this was the right thing to do.
We worked closely with the City of Calgary to design a bag that would be compatible with local composting facilities and break down easily within a 28-day cycle. We were thrilled to hear from our members that they found multiple second uses for our compostable bags, including as liners for household compost bins and to dispose of pet and garden waste. It was always our hope that the public would embrace these bags and find ways to incorporate them into their daily lives.
By all accounts, our transition away from single-use plastics has been a resounding success and an example of how innovation can be used to solve some of our most pressing climate challenges. This is why we were shocked to learn that our bags were going to be included in the federal government’s upcoming countrywide ban on single-use plastics, even though they contain no plastic or microplastics whatsoever.
Even more bizarre is the fact that we will still be permitted to sell our compostable bags on store shelves in bundles, but not individually at the till. To us, this makes little sense if the government’s goal is to eliminate single-use bags regardless of their composition or characteristics. Even after the federal ban takes effect, our bags will still be sold to Calgary Co-op members, who will continue to use them in a multitude of ways. What’s more, other compostable bags on the market will also remain on store shelves, failing to address the problem the government claims to be solving.
It is true that not all compostable bags are created equal. Some do contain microplastics and fail to break down quickly but the solution should not be a blanket ban on all compostables.
Instead, we have offered to work with the federal government to create universal standards for the composition and labelling of compostable bags to ensure that only those that meet the most stringent of criteria will be allowed to circulate. This would offer Canadians a choice when it comes to how they reduce their reliance on single-use plastics beyond paper or cloth reusable bags.
It defies logic to simply ban compostable options when they can and should be an important part of efforts to eliminate single-use plastics.
Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault has said that his department will not consider providing Calgary Co-op with an exemption to the ban, nor will he work with us to create standards that would allow for the use of compostable bag options. This is both disappointing and short-sighted.
We should be providing Canadians with as many alternatives to single-use plastics as possible, not limiting them to just one. It’s only a matter of time before the playing field shifts again, and further innovation will be required to keep up.
Furthermore, what kind of message does it send to businesses across industry sectors when the government rejects new and novel ideas meant to solve complex problems and improve the lives of Canadians, and instead imposes a one-size-fits-all solution?
Canadians want to do the right thing when it comes to climate change and environmental sustainability. Providing them with a single option with which to do so while also punishing innovation is a recipe for failure.
We agree wholeheartedly with the need to eliminate single-use plastics from the environment, which is why we eliminated plastic bags from our lines of business years ago. It is our sincere hope that the federal government will come to see that compostable options can and should be a part of the solution too.
Ken Keelor is the CEO of Calgary Co-op.