New Restrictions and Prohibitions Affecting Single-Use Items and Plastics

New restrictions and prohibitions affecting single-use items - including but not only plastics - are in force or coming soon. Here is what your organization needs to know about the new laws in Alberta pertaining to single-use items.

The Government of Canada reports that Canadians use almost 15 billion plastic bags every year, and approximately 16 million plastic straws every day. Canada has identified plastic pollution as a significant issue that requires a comprehensive plan to limit harmful effects on wildlife, the environment, and human health. Canada’s approach to limiting the effects of plastic pollution includes a federal, provincial, and territorial government agreement to the 2018 Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste, which lays out a vision for a circular economy for plastics.

As part of the implementation of this vision, the Federal Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulations, SOR/2022-138 (the “Regulations”) were brought into force in 2022 and are being implemented on a staggered timeline. On December 20, 2022, the manufacture and import of checkout bags, cutlery, foodservice ware, stir sticks, and straws was prohibited. Sale of these items will be prohibited on December 20, 2023. On June 20, 2023, ring carriers, a plastic part designed to surround beverage containers, were also prohibited for manufacture, and import for sale - sale will be prohibited on June 20, 2024. A similar timeline applies to flexible straws packaged with beverage containers.

In addition to the implementation of the Regulations at the federal level, some Alberta municipalities are taking their own steps, and in some ways have gone even further than the federal program. The Cities of Edmonton and Calgary have created bylaws to prohibit single use items – not just plastic ones. Edmonton’s Single-use Item Reduction Bylaw (“Bylaw 20117”) comes into effect on July 1, 2023, applies to most organizations that hold a business licence or civic event permit, and generally aligns with the Regulations. The Regulations prohibit sale, manufacture, and import of plastic shopping bags and foam cups, plates and takeout containers, and Bylaw 20117 prohibits business from providing those items to customers. There are however differences between the Regulations and Bylaw 20117. The Regulations prohibit sale, manufacture, and import of plastic straws, stir sticks, and utensils, but under Bylaw 20117, the definition of “Single-use Foodware Accessories” is not limited to plastic. Additionally, rather than prohibiting these accessories outright, Bylaw 20117 prohibits businesses and event organizers from providing them to customers unless a business asks customers if they need the accessory, customers request it, or customers help themselves. Calgary’s Single-Use Items Charter Bylaw (“Bylaw 1H2023”) will take effect on January 16, 2024, and is similar to Edmonton’s Bylaw 20117 in that businesses will be prohibited from providing Foodware Accessories – of any material - without asking or being asked to provide them.

Other Alberta municipalities have implemented single-use item bylaws as well. The City of Spruce Grove’s Single-Use Items Reduction Bylaw came into effect on January 1, 2022, and prohibited the use of plastic checkout bags, plastic straws, and polystyrene food service ware. Likewise, the Town of Banff’s Single-Use Items Reduction Bylaw comes into effect on July 1, 2023, and prohibits businesses or event organizers from providing disposable accessory items such as utensils, straws, and pre-packaged condiments, unless customers ask for them. Plastic shopping bags will be prohibited in Banff effective January 1, 2024.

One particular item that is noteworthy in the Regulations and various bylaws, is the range in the definitions applicable to prohibited shopping bags. The Regulations define a prohibited “single-use plastic checkout bag” as any “plastic manufactured item” whose plastic is not made of a textile fabric. Edmonton’s Bylaw 20117 defines a prohibited “plastic shopping bag” as a “bag made out of any type of film plastic, which may include compostable, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, recycled, bio-plastic, or conventional plastics”. Spruce Grove’s Bylaw has a similar definition. Calgary’s Bylaw 1H2023 defines a prohibited “shopping bag” simply as any bag that is not reusable or made of paper. While the definitions vary, what is clear is that businesses will only be able to provide customers with paper or reusable shopping bags; compostable bags are not a permitted alternative to plastic shopping bags.

Where the Regulations are focused on the manufacture and sale of single-use plastics, under the constitutionally recognized trade and commerce power of the Parliament of Canada, these municipal bylaws appear to be aimed at reducing the prevalence and use of single-use items, in many cases regardless of their material. The overlaps between federal and municipal laws will likely create confusion for organizations. It is imperative that your organization is alert to these varying definitions and timelines to ensure compliance with these new restrictions and prohibitions.

For more information on how the laws pertaining to single-use items may affect your organization, contact Stuart Chambers, Aaron Mann, or any member of our Environmental & Energy Practice Group.