Food Plastic not so fantastic

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Fast food has come a long way since the golden age of grease and styrofoam-clad burgers, fries and fried chicken of the previous century.

Murray Jones, the owner of Murray’s Curbside Treats N’ Eats, has been using compostable and recyclable cardboard containers to package his food for the past two years. Last week, he told Yellowknifer he plans to ask the city to make eco-friendly containers a requirement for all food truck licences next year.

This might seem like preachy overreach by one crusading entrepreneur but many people would agree that Yellowknife has a serious littering problem, especially downtown where the food trucks do their business. And if a substitute for Styrofoam – which, unlike paper, lasts forever — can be found, one that spares space at the city’s aging landfill, then why not?

Past environment campaigns in the territory, such as the push to use recyclable shopping bags over plastic bags, and recyclable beverage containers have proved immensely popular and have gone a long way to prevent trash from accumulating on our streets and in our greenspaces.

The Yellowknife Farmers Market already adopted similar practices, with a focus on compostable packaging while enticing marketgoers to bring their own plates and containers. Jones is right to be amazed by what the market was able to keep out of the city landfill with minimal fuss and bother – about 1,000 kilograms of waste was diverted to the compost facility in 2017.

Take-out vendors are trying to run low-margin businesses in a highly competitive field where speed, convenience and costs can make or break them. Fast-food customers want their meals cheap, ready in an instant, and delivered in a package that allows them to carry them away and eat later.

Jones’ successful food truck suggests switching from Styrofoam is not going to make or break or business or keep customers away. He says eco-friendly packaging only adds around 15 cents to each meal he sells.

Given Styrofoam takes around 200 years to break down in landfill, this seems like a bargain to city taxpayers paying for more space to bury more garbage.

Government needs to log on

Dear Department of Health and Social Services: the Internet is not, actually, a fad. One Yellowknife MLA drove that point home recently. Julie Green called on the territorial government to engage youth via social media, after the GNWT released a draft of a Child and Youth Mental Wellness Plan in August.

Deputy minister Debbie DeLancey agreed, saying “Posters just don’t cut it.”

She added her department already has a relationship with Kids Help Hone, and Northwestel and Bell Mobility have offered funding for youth mental health initiatives more than a year ago. DeLancey said staff are currently in discussions with Bell.

The action plan came out of a retreat facilitated by FOXY (Fostering Open eXpression Among Youth) and SMASH (Strength, Masculinities and Sexual Health) this summer, that brought 130 young people together. They gave feedback on how they think the government should be tackling mental health.

The question is, did the GNWT listen?

Mental health services are crucial to young people but as Green pointed out, the report has a “fail-whale” sized hole when it comes to digital technology. While social media may be something the Department of Health and Social Services has looked at, it’s past time to include the platforms young people spend their lives on in a five-year action plan. It could literally save their lives.

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