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Since Calgary’s Single-Use Items Bylaw came into effect on January 16, 2024, we have noticed a few misconceptions and myths in the questions that have been submitted to the Ward offices, 311, and on social media about the Bylaw. To support Calgarians and businesses in better understanding the bylaw, below you will find a list of myths and facts.

Get the facts about fees

Who is keeping the fee, is it a tax?

No taxes are being collected by The City of Calgary on this. Bag fees will be kept by the business to help offset the costs of the new paper and reusable bags. We are encouraging businesses to use these fees to help support other waste reduction initiatives at their business i.e. reusable cups, plates, cutlery, and take-out container exchange programs.

Why are the bag fees kept by the businesses?

While developing the bylaw, The City heard from businesses that to meet the requirements of Calgary’s Single-use Items Bylaw and lessen the burden of the Government of Canada Single-use Plastics Regulations, it would be important for business to retain the bag fee to offset the cost of transitioning from cheap single-use plastic bags to the more expensive paper and reusable bags. 

Why are the minimum fees set at the rate they are at?

The fees for new paper and reusable shopping bags have been set so that they are high enough to give customers an incentive to bring their own reusable bags. Calgarians can avoid the fee by bringing their own reusable bag or tote.

Why am I being charged more than the minimum fees?

Under the new Single-use Items Bylaw, the minimum mandatory fee is for new paper ($.15) and reusable bags ($1), the intent of the bylaw to provide Calgarians with the choice to avoid the fee and reduce waste by skipping the bag or bringing their own bag.

Why are Calgarians charged for bags at the drive-thru?

An estimated 850,000 to 1 million paper drive-thru bags are distributed in Calgary each week. Paper bags have enormous resources to manufacture and distribute; they are often not reused or recycled, and most end up in the garbage or as litter in our community.

The bylaw encourages Calgarians to rethink whether a bag is required at the drive-thru every time and to consider alternatives where it makes sense. Many times, a bag at the drive-thru is not needed at all because orders are small and consumed right away like a breakfast sandwich.

Larger orders or orders with many small items may require some sort of bag to keep them contained. The option is available for Calgarians to save money and reduce waste by keeping a small basket or reusable bag in their vehicle or better yet, an insulated lunch bag which will help keep your food warm during your drive.

Why am I being charged for foodware accessories?

If a business is charging for items like cups, straws etc. they may be confused about the details of the Single-use Items Bylaw. To clarify the Bylaw requires that businesses provide bags and foodware accessories on request – either by the customer asking for these items or a staff member asking if items are needed. The mandatory fees apply only to new paper and reusable bags that customers have chosen to take. The City is working to help businesses understand the bylaw requirements, if you provide us with the business information, we can reach out to clarify with the business.

Are other cities doing this?

Fees on single-use and reusable bags to drive waste reduction are common practice among western Canadian cities.

Western Canadian Municipalities – Bag Fees
Municipality Fees for paper bags Applies to drive- thru/take-out Fees for reusable bags
Calgary $0.15 per paper bag January 16, 2024 $0.25 per paper bag January 16, 2024 Yes $1 per reusable bag January 16, 2024 $2 per reusable bag January 16, 2025
Edmonton $0.15 per paper bag July 1, 2023 $0.25 per paper bag July 1, 2024 Yes $1 per reusable bag July 1, 2023 $2 per reusable bag July 1, 2024
Vancouver $0.15 per paper bag January 1, 2022 $0.25 per paper bag January 1, 2023 Yes $1 per reusable bag January 1, 2022 $2 per reusable bag January 1, 2023
Banff $0.25 per paper bag January 1, 2024   Yes $2 per reusable bag January 1, 2024
Victoria $0.25 per paper bag April 15, 2021   Yes $2 per reusable bag April 15, 2021

Other single-use item bylaw facts

Is it sanitary for drive-thrus not to use bags?

Drive-thrus have been provided with guidance from Alberta Health Services about how to ensure food safety when customers opt not to take a paper bag. Drive-thru staff will use a tray or tub to hand customers their order - the customer will take the items from the tray or tub, placing the items in a basket or thermal lunch bag they keep in the car or the cup holders or consoles.

Drive-thru staff will sanitize the trays and tub in the same way they do when they are used for instore service.

I recycle my paper bags. Why is a reusable bag better?

Reduction is the most effective method of preventing waste and often the most cost-effective option in the long term. Reducing waste helps to reduce the production, use and disposal of these items. Reuse is the next best option, and involves items being used again for the same or different purposes with the objective of long-term cost savings.

It is important that once you have as many reusable bags as you need, you reuse them for as long as you can and do not keep getting more.

The purpose of this new bylaw is to encourage waste reduction – often the bags we take as consumers are used for a very brief time to carry our goods home and then just thrown away. The new bag fees are meant to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags more often or say no to a bag whenever possible. 

Why do I always have to ask for straws, napkins and other items?

Whether it is napkins, cutlery or condiments – we have gotten ourselves in a very wasteful situation where businesses (and their staff) have been providing handfuls of the stuff to customers by default.

Often without consideration for whether the stuff will ever be used or if they will simply be tossed into the landfill or littered in our public spaces. In Calgary alone, over 10 million single-use items are thrown in the garbage each week, this is a staggering amount of garbage and a waste of resources. If every business were already making a conscious effort to be mindful of the foodware accessories they hand out by asking customers what items they need, this waste can be cut back.

Is this bylaw practical?

We are not trying to annoy people or make life inconvenient; we are trying to get you to think about your waste habits and to make a change to help reduce this type of waste. 

The new Single-Use Items bylaw that is meant to reduce waste by encouraging reusable options and “skipping the stuff” when practical.