The City of Calgary is going to repeal its short-lived single-use items bylaw. Policy designed to reduce waste has triggered a public outcry, probably due to the fact the bylaw supported federal regulations to ban single-use plastics. Albertans continue to be governed by the petulant notion that a federal Liberal government can’t tell Albertans what’s good for them, nor can their own municipalities.
The city didn’t introduce a ban, but it did require businesses to only provide these items on request and charge a fee for them: for example, 15 cents for a paper bag at your favourite burger joint.
Calgary’s municipal council passed the garbage reduction strategy because “producing, using and disposing of these items uses up natural resources and causes harm to our water bodies, ecosystems and wildlife.” Single-use items like plastic bags generally end up in the landfill but are often tossed in the streets, where they flutter across our lawns on their journey to local fields and streams.
But why should we prevent people from the delight of pulling their burger out of a bag only to throw it out moments later? And why are plastics of particular concern? Courtney Lindwall prepared a great summary of the reasons for eliminating plastic waste in her article, Single-Use Plastics 101.
Lindwall explains: “Single-use plastics are a glaring example of the problems with throwaway culture. Instead of investing in quality goods that will last, we often prioritize convenience over durability and consideration of long-term impacts. Our reliance on these plastics means we are accumulating waste at a staggering rate. According to the United Nations Environment Program, we produce 300 million tons of plastic each year worldwide, half of which is for single-use items.”
In a United Nations agreement, the vast majority of the world’s nations committed to end plastic pollution with a 2024 target for implementing policies on single-use plastics and a goal of significantly reducing plastics pollution by 2030.
Many countries have plastic bag bans in effect, but Canada has passed regulations to ban a wider assortment of single-use plastics — like bags, cutlery, straws, stir sticks and the ring carriers found on six-packs.
A federal court judge has ruled against Canada's ban, concluding the government went too far when it deemed "plastic manufactured items" toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Ottawa is appealing.
Eliminating single-use plastics will only reduce waste if it isn’t replaced with some other material. That’s why Calgary’s bylaw included other materials, like paper bags. However, the bylaw also included a list of common-sense exemptions, such as bags to carry bulk items like fruit, bags for baked goods or meat and small paper bags.
Canadians are allowing conservative politicians to lead us into an uncertain future as precious time ticks away on our ability to reverse the devastating trend towards an overheated planet, writes Rob Miller @winexus #ClimatePollution #renewables
When the bylaw came into effect, Premier Danielle Smith jumped into action. Her comment about ideology getting ahead of common sense was gleefully repeated by the Calgary Herald and around supper tables across the province. It appears conservative politicians and their captured news outlets have agreed to dust off the “common sense” marketing gem used to great effect by former Ontario premier Mike Harris.
It doesn’t matter that Pierre Poilievre believes there’s an electrician out there who can harness lightning for electricity. The federal Conservative leader is the self-proclaimed architect of the new common-sense revolution. It’s the kind of common sense that thinks cryptocurrency is better than the Canadian dollar, COVID-19 vaccine mandates are “control versus freedom” and pipelines should be built in all directions in the middle of a climate crisis.
Other acts of common sense by conservative leaders across the country include Doug Ford trying to hand over Greenbelt land to developers who happened to also be his friends and Smith publicly telling conspiracy-theory influencer Tucker Carlson that she deplored not having the powers to curtail legal prosecutions of certain individuals in Alberta.
But perhaps the greatest violation of common sense is the conservative disdain for wind and solar power, energy storage and electric vehicles. These, coincidentally, are the fastest-growing climate solutions around the world and pose the greatest threat to the fossil fuel industry.
Decades of peer-reviewed scientific research have produced an overwhelming consensus that the burning of fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to global warming and a source of air pollution that is responsible for millions of deaths worldwide.
The Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t sound like a common-sense organization. It sounds like a political movement that is pro-pollution. Be it defending our right to throw away petroleum-based plastic forks or supporting planet-cooking carbon bombs in protected areas, the Conservatives aren’t into clean.
Conservatives relentlessly challenge clean electricity, clean vehicles and even clean streets free from fast food garbage. In spite of this dirtier form of common sense, Canadians are willing to allow conservative politicians to lead us into an uncertain future as precious time ticks away on our ability to reverse the devastating trend towards an overheated planet.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action, but any opinions expressed in his work are his own.