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Upcoming federal ban on single-use plastics gets mixed reviews

National efforts to meet climate change initiatives will see the first phase of a ban on single-use plastics come into effect this December across Canada. The Lakeland community has mixed reviews.

LAKELAND - National efforts to meet climate change initiatives will see the first phase of a ban on single-use plastics come into effect this December. The law, which was announced and finalized this past June by federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, will see six categories of single-use plastics included in this year's roll-out, banning both the sale and manufacturing of the products. 

The items included this winter are single-use checkout bags, cutlery, certain plastic containers, stir sticks and straws. Ring carriers traditionally used for bottles and cans will be added to the list in March, 2023. Businesses will have until December, 2023 to utilize single-use stocks, followed by a complete ban on all additional exports in 2025. 

While the national goal aims to support efforts in reaching zero plastic waste by 2030 and is applauded by many, the decision is causing concerns for some businesses and plastic manufacturers. 

Restaurant challenges 

For one restaurant in Lac La Biche County, the transition will inevitably have financial implications considering current items on the market that are environmentally friendly are either a different quality, or are too expensive, said Hazel Costa, Costa Cafe owner. 

“We used to use the paper containers when we were a small cafe because we were selling a lot of wraps and sandwiches, and it was fine,” she says, looking back to May of 2019 when the business opened. But after expanding the menu and including hot and fried foods, the containers affected the quality of the food. 

While alternatives like paper straws, were not only loathed by many customers dining in and taking out, the cost for the products can be significantly higher compared to single-use plastics, she explained. 

“A package of 100 straws you can maybe get it for less than $5, but if you go for the paper option it will be around $12,” she says, speaking from experience. And considering restaurants, like Costa Cafe, buy items in bulk, the costs add up. 

Coming out of a pandemic, being a relatively new business, while trying to have the best quality products and facing financial pressures, every cent counts, said Costa.  

“We need to sit down and talk about our business. We did survive the last two years being a small cafe. We always try to expand our business and find a different way. I’m sure we’ll be OK,” but the costs associated with the recent interest rate hikes and inflation on food and goods that are needed to run the business, is a lot to juggle, she admits. 

Small changes needed 

While there will always be challenges that come with any new transition, making a small change to become more environmentally friendly is a fraction of the cost compared to the effects that climate change can cause, said Brian Deheer, a long-time former federal and provincial Green Party candidate and provincial party leader in the Lac La Biche area. 

"I think we should be trying to do as much as we can as quickly as we can… you know, there are always options, yet there are always costs as well, but so often, the cost to the environment isn't included in the equation.” 

Although many plastics take “decades to degrade and break down” in the environment, another challenge that’s a cause for concern is the energy used to create a product that is only used once, Deheer explained. 

“Plastic items that are just used once and then discarded, it's a very inefficient and inappropriate use of that material,” he says. 

“There are places where you're able to bring in plastic containers to fill them up with bulk… maybe that's an option we could look at here. I think it's only limited by you know, imagination and creativity,” says Deheer. 

Ultimately, the long-time Green Party politician believes Alberta has the resources, ability and options to support the transition and reduce the province's ecological footprint.  

"You know this is the can-do province. If we’ve had the resourcefulness, the drive and the creativity to do what we've done up until now, we can use the same strengths to bring us to a better environmental balance where we are producing fewer emissions and being more efficient with our resources.” 

Cornerstone Co-op 

While businesses have until December 2023 to use single-use stocks, as of Oct. 24, Cornerstore Co-op will make the switch to reusable bags and eliminate plastic check-out bags in all Cornerstone Co-op locations, according to Associate Director of Consumer Operations Aaron Knopp. 

Cornerstone Co-op has food stores located in St. Paul, Elk Point, Vermilion, Wainwright, Provost and Dewberry. 

Knopp says there will be an opportunity for customers to choose paper bags, but there will be charges, and he recommends the use of reusable bags instead, “because [paper bags] actually have a very heavy carbon footprint.”  

He explained, that paper bags need to be utilized about 43 times to “get the true value out of it,” but most paper bags won’t survive 43 uses. According to Knopp, it is important to consider ways of sustaining the planet due to human impact that causes harm to the environment. 
“It’s a matter of figuring out how deep that damage is and if nobody reacts to it, it’s never going to get better,” said Knopp. “So, we’ve got to start doing things, even if it’s little things now.” 

Provincial government  

Earlier this month, the Government of Alberta decided to challenge the upcoming national ban on single-use plastic in federal court. In a statement released Sept. 8, Premier Jason Kenney said the transition, which is cited in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, is “unconstitutional” and would hinder the multi-million dollar petrochemical operations in Alberta. 

“The federal decision to list perfectly safe plastic consumer products as ‘toxic substances’ is a huge overreach and could impair investor confidence in the petrochemical sector that employs tens of thousands of Canadians,” said Kenney. 

The provincial government is joining the constitutional challenge, which was originally filed last May by the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition. The coalition is made up of a variety of petrochemical companies and manufacturers. 

*With files from Mario Cabradilla