Edmonton’s waste strategy has come to a plastic fork in the road—along with a knife, spoon, cup and the rest of the single-use items that are consuming the planet.
On October 4, 2022, the City passed Edmonton’s Single-use Item Reduction Bylaw and is moving towards implementing it by July 1, 2023. The bylaw focuses on making reusable items—such as utensils, cups and bags—a bigger part of our lives.
What it means to you
The bylaw aims to reduce single-use items usage by 20 per cent by banning
• banning foam cups, plates and containers
• banning plastic shopping bags, and setting a minimum fee for paper bags and new reusable shopping bags
• requiring restaurants to serve dine-in beverage orders in reusable cups, and to accept reusable customer cups
• making accessories like straws, cutlery and pre-packaged condiments available by request only
What it means to the environment
“An estimated 450 million single-use items are thrown in the garbage each year in Edmonton, plus more that are recycled and littered,” said Jodi Goebel, Director of Business Integration and Waste Strategy.
“Restricting single-use items and promoting reuse not only reduces litter and keeps waste out the landfill, it reduces the amount of energy and resources required to produce, ship and dispose of these items.”
Getting a head start on reducing waste
As you prepare for the new bylaw, now is a good time to spend a little energy getting reusables into your daily routine.
Think about where you go and what you buy in a typical week. Consider making the bylaw part of your own habits even before it comes into effect next summer. At the grocery store, bring a reusable bag. At the office, bring a reusable mug for your brew. Getting food for takeout? Now’s the time to politely decline plastic cutlery if you’re heading somewhere where reusable cutlery is available. If you have packaged ketchup and other condiments available, start not taking them away with you.
Leading by example
The Hallway Café, which is located inside Edmonton’s City Hall, isn’t waiting for the bylaw.
“Our program is built around a sustainability model,” said Brian McBride, the Culinary Director with not-for-profit E4C, which provides staff to the café. “This extends to every aspect of our program, from funding to environmental sustainability and stewardship. Seeing how much waste single-use items create, it was important for us to look for solutions.”
With the help of a waste reduction grant from the City, the Hallway Café is looking into ways to reduce single-use waste.
The restaurant’s reusable takeout initiative, featuring a menu for organizations interested in catered meals, is one of those new ideas. The meals, packaged in reusable containers with cloth napkins and reusable utensils, are delivered to downtown office lobbies between 11:30 a.m. and noon on weekdays. At 3 p.m., restaurant staff return to collect the items for cleaning.
“Right now we’re only doing a soft launch for a few clients, but plan to eventually be open to individuals and businesses in each tower we deliver to,” McBride said. “We want those in the downtown core to be able to simply take an elevator down to get a meal, and make reducing waste equally as convenient.”
“There’s more I can do”
AJ Dimas-Lehndorf, a City of Edmonton employee, is among the crowd of workers returning to downtown offices with a new perspective on single-use items.
“I’ve loved getting to rediscover the food scene downtown,” said Dimas-Lehndorf. “But it’s striking how much more waste comes with takeout compared to working from home. Bringing a reusable cup and using cutlery in the office are a couple steps I’ve taken to cut back on this, but I know there’s more I can do.”
Here are three tips.
1. Build a reusables kit
A reusables kit should be small and easy to store and transport. Take your time building it. Include items like a coffee cup, a water bottle, a container with a lid to hold leftovers and reusable straws, bags and cutlery. Leave it in your backpack, your car, your bike bags or at your desk. Make it part of your life that you don’t have to think too much about.
2. Refuse zero-use items
Ordering takeout can mean taking away single-use cutlery, napkins and condiment packets that collect in kitchen drawers everywhere.
3. Check to your office kitchen for reusable cutlery, or eat in
If you’re getting takeout to bring back to the office, check to see if reusables are on hand. Many corporate offices have shared kitchens with cutlery that everyone can use. In the spirit of re-use, wash and return the items for the next person, just like you were the next person for the person before you.
If you have time for a longer lunch, eat in at a restaurant or on a patio. There are plenty of options downtown.
Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows an Edmontonian at Remedy Cafe choosing a reusable mug for coffee or chai. On October 5, 2022, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and Denis Jubinville, the City’s Branch Manager of Waste Services, spoke at a news conference about the new Single-Use Items Bylaw.