Statement from Karen Wirsig on Calgary Co-op’s campaign to exempt its checkout bags from single-use plastic bans

Toronto | Traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Huron-Wendat – We are deeply concerned that the Calgary Co-op grocery store is undermining the federal ban on plastic checkout bags by seeking an exemption for their so-called “compostable” bags. The manufacturer has reported that the bags are made of PLA (polylactic acid, a plastic polymer made from plant-based starch) and PBAT (polybutylene adipate terephthalate, a plastic polymer made from fossil-based feedstocks). It is therefore false to say they “contain no plastic.”

Whether they’re made from oil and gas, plants or other organic material, all plastics have a similar chemical structure. Once these products end up in the environment, it makes no difference what the original feedstock was.

Single-use checkout bags are one of the most commonly littered items in Canada. No matter what type of plastic they’re made from, checkout bags pose a risk to animals and their habitat.

Even if the Calgary Co-op bags are certified as “compostable plastic,” they only compost under specific industrial conditions that are rare in Canada. Further, the certification doesn’t require the bags to break down fully. It allows small pieces of plastic—up to 2 millimeters—to remain at the end of the composting process, which means the resulting compost can be a source of microplastic pollution.

The federal government is right to include this type of bag in the ban on single-use plastic checkout bags. This is good policy that reduces the hazard that single-use plastics pose to the environment.

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE ( Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Lauren Thomas, Environmental Defence,