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Last straw for single-use plastics

Local organizations agree the federal government’s plan to ban single-use plastics is a step in the right direction, and many already have a head-start.
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The federal government made a commitment to ban harmful single-use plastics as early as 2021.

Local organizations agree the federal government’s plan to ban single-use plastics is a step in the right direction, and many already have a head-start.

Erin Ritchie, manager of environmental programs for the Lakeland Industry and Community Association (LICA), described the 2021 goal as “very ambitious, but definitely a big step for our environment.”

”One-use plastics are very wasteful, and they don’t break down very easily in our environment,” she continued. “They get into our waterways and cause pollution. Plastic is a very great resource, it’s a durable material and we’re kind of wasting it on things that we throw away after one use.”

On June 10, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal Liberals’ intent to ban items such as plastic bags, straws, cutlery, plates, and stir sticks, where supported by scientific evidence and warranted.

”Canadians know first-hand the impacts of plastic pollution, and are tired of seeing their beaches, parks, streets, and shorelines littered with plastic waste,” expressed Trudeau in a press release. “We have a responsibility to work with our partners to reduce plastic pollution, protect the environment, create jobs, and grow our economy. We owe it to our kids to keep the environment clean and safe for generations to come.”

While the commitment is a big one, it has people hopeful for what it could mean for the ecosystem.

”It’s one thing for a restaurant or a person to make small changes in their life, but for a whole country to make drastic change, I think that’s how you see changes in other countries,” expressed Celine Unrau, general manager at Mr. Mike’s in Bonnyville.

After a decision made by their head office, Unrau said the restaurant has implemented a number of changes to reduce their plastic use, such as only giving out straws when they’re requested.

”We still have them on-hand, especially for people with disabilities, but we’ve already seen a huge decline in people asking for straws and we even have guests request no straws,” she noted. “I’ve even seen people bring in their own reusable straws. It’s really cool to see that paradigm shift in people within the last couple of years of trying to reduce their plastic use.”

The A&W in Bonnyville also had a change recently with their straws. According to manager Rex Patio, they introduced paper straws toward the end of last year.

”Most of our fast food (restaurants) right now are using paper straws, and it helps the environment,” he said, adding they have got some negative comments about them from customers.

”Great idea, but the cardboard straws are horrible,” exclaimed Melissa Rae S. in a comment to the Nouvelle. “There has got to be something biodegradable that lasts a little bit longer than half your drink and is affordable for businesses.”

Renata Duarta, owner of Picante Café in Cold Lake, started offering alternative straws when there was a demand from customers.

”The downside with the paper straws is they don’t hold as well as the plastic, and the fact that the paper straws have to be made from fresh paper, they can’t be made from recycled paper,” she detailed. “From a consumer’s point-of-view, I’m concerned now what that will do for our land resources.”

After the initial switch, Duarta hasn’t noticed a lot of comments regarding the change.

”It doesn’t really register on people’s minds (anymore). Six-months ago, when this became an issue, people were conscious about the straws, but it’s no longer a conscious item for customers.”

According to the federal government, less than 10 per cent of plastic used in Canada gets recycled.

”Recycling isn’t as reliable as it used to be, so we need to work on having reusable things and reducing waste,” noted Ritchie.

During their most recent Jessie Lake clean-up with Notre Dame High School, LICA recorded 77 plastic take-out containers, 51 bottle caps, 54 lids, 18 grocery bags, 26 cups and plates, and two six-pack holders.

For a lot of one-use items, Matt Janz, general manager for agriculture and waste services for the MD of Bonnyville, believes people may think all plastics can be recycled, when that’s not the case.

”It’s a challenge for us, because when we go to dump our bins, it’s light and it usually flies around,” he explained. “If it’s just loose plastic bags that are in the recycling when we dump it, it usually blows around in the wind and we have litter problems because of that.”

The federal government believes by improving on how plastic waste is managed and investing in innovative solutions, there can be a reduction of 1.8-million tonnes of carbon pollution. They believe the move would also generate billions of dollars in revenue and create approximately 42,000 jobs.

While she has concerns about replacing current products that will prevent leakage and hold hot foods, Duarta believes there could be interesting developments in products offered.

”There might be an issue with costs, things might be a little more expensive than plastic, so that might be (a concern) whether we can settle the cost or once again pass it onto our customers. That’s a concern, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world.”

While companies are doing their best to get behind the movement, consumers are split on the whether or not an outright ban is the right decision.

When the Nouvelle posed the question to readers on social media, Priscilla Hofer suggested another alternative.

”I don’t think single-use plastics should be banned. I think that better alternatives should be invested so the migration happens naturally.”

While she didn’t mind the idea of the plastic ban, Sarah Pequegnat believes “we have bigger problems” that should be dealt with.

Tania Antoniuk agreed, “There are much bigger items that could be banned, and that should have been looked into first.”

Some consumers believe it’s been a long-time coming.

”It’s the right thing to do. It should have been done years ago. We need to pull our heads out of the sand,” said Ian Perry.

Katelyn Cherniak added, “I think it’s a great idea. Buy a few stainless steel straws, keep then in your vehicle. When I’m at home, I don’t use straws nor plastic cutlery; washing dishes, everyone is used to it. Everyone may hate it, but I’d hate to have to swim in plastic while on vacation in the ocean.”

Restaurants such as McDonald’s are delving deeper into the topic. The business announced on June 19 that stores located in London, ON and Vancouver, BC will test new packaging options and recycling initiatives.

Loblaws began charging a small fee in 2007 for their plastic bags in hopes of eliminating one billion plastic bags from landfills. According to a 2017 report, they’ve diverted 11-billion plastic bags through the program and have donated $9-million to World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada.

With the 2021 deadline fast approaching, all of Canada will be closely watching to see the outcome.

Ritchie expressed, “I think acting now, at least getting the wheels turning, is a great start. It may not get all the way there, but even if you take away plastic bags, that’s a great start.”