EDITORIAL: NWT should lead the way on plastic

25

If you’ve ever been concerned about plastics in our rivers, lakes and oceans you might be familiar with the infamous statement by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “By 2050, plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish.”

It’s a dramatic statement, one that is inciting governments to propose some serious interventions on single-use plastics such as straws, plastic utensils and food containers.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s poll-friendly pre-election promise to ban single-use plastics by 2021 is more aspiration than a well thought out plan as evidenced by his disastrous press conference announcing the ban where he stumbled and fumbled trying to answer a reporter’s question on what he was personally doing to reduce plastic use in his household.

Fortunately, the territorial government, advised by very proactive organizations such as Ecology North and Alternatives North, are already well ahead of the game when it comes to single-use plastics. Plastic bag levies have been in place in the territory since 2011 and all Yellowknife businesses, except restaurants, either charge a 25-cent fee for single-use plastic bags or have done away with them entirely.

Meagan Wohlberg, spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, stated in an email that since its launch, the program has saved over 47 million plastic bags, which is almost 235 tonnes of plastic. A good start to protecting the beauty of our Northern lands.

The NWT has also had a beverage container recycling program since 2005, a program still lacking in many other jurisdictions. The program has proved popular as Northerners receive a refund for every beverage container, including plastic containers, that they return to NWT recycling facilities. A bit of pocket money for one’s efforts goes a long way to buying that support.

But plastic use isn’t a new problem and certainly not one that can be solved by 2021. It’s going to take a well thought out, proactive plan to even put a dent into this problem.

There is an appetite for a single-use plastics ban but alternatives to all the daily conveniences they provide must be offered to get public buy-in.

Styrofoam is an easy one and can be replaced quite easily with a switch to recycled paper products. Other products, such as plastic bottle caps, will require more consideration. Regardless, these out to be included in the GNWT’s recycling program. Currently, they are not.

Fortunately, the territory can pride itself in being a national leader in waste reduction. There is no need for the GNWT to wait for whatever plan the feds devise post-federal election, rashly considered as it was, by a governing party that has been sliding in the polls.

The territory has been very successful to date in its waste reduction efforts. It’s time to continue that success with a made-in-the-North plastic waste reduction plan of its own.