Banning single use plastic shopping bags is a good idea.
This concept, currently being considered by Whitehorse, is a very progressive step.
While plastic bags might be a small percentage of the garbage stream they are one of the most visible.
At any landfill they festoon trees, fences and the occasional unfortunate bird.
Getting them out of Whitehorse completely is the right thing to do.
But here is the funny thing.
Plastic bags are recyclable.
Raven Recycling accepts them.
The bags are baled up, trucked south, melted down and made into new low-grade plastic items.
Of course, wasting time, labour and energy to make bags, ship them all the way to the Yukon, use them once, and then ship them back out is not efficient.
Use reusable cloth bags instead.
By banning plastic bags, by removing them completely from the consumption cycle, the most environmentally positive outcome can be arrived at.
The question then arises that if plastic bags can be banned why not ban other items?
Why not Styrofoam?
Unlike plastic bags, Styrofoam is not accepted for recycling at Yukon recycling centres.
However, like plastic bags, Styrofoam is made from hydrocarbons and is also not biodegradable.
Plastics and Styrofoam never biodegrade.
All they do is break down into smaller and smaller pieces.
These can enter the food chain with unintended negative consequences.
Banning Styrofoam within Whitehorse will not remove all of it from the local waste stream.
Styrofoam is used as packaging material for a lot of products that are shipped to the Yukon.
Anyone who has ordered a computer is also the recipient of lots of Styrofoam packing material. This will end up in the landfill.
But some Styrofoam is used for packaging on items generated within city limits.
Meat products at any of the big box grocery stores are carefully laid out on small trays of Styrofoam.
Each time anyone takes home a steak or pork chop, a Styrofoam tray is taken home as well.
Some take-away restaurant food is served in Styrofoam containers.
Alternate products exist for these items.
Food can be placed in be boxboard cartons, and meat can be sold on plastic trays.
Boxboard can be composted, or if it is not greasy, recycled into new paper products.
Plastic trays can be washed and then placed with other hard plastic containers for recycling.
It might even still be possible to get take-away coffee in Whitehorse that comes in a Styrofoam cup.
Styrofoam is not a good container for hot liquids, as the chemicals in the Styrofoam can leach into the beverage, and then get absorbed by the human doing the drinking.
Any form of single single-use non-biodegradable coffee cups, such as the Styrofoam ones, should be banned.
Most take-away ‘paper’ coffee cups also do not easily break down.
Some have a wax or plastic liner that limits the biological breakdown of the cup.
Some coffee shops in town use biodegradable cups.
They are good for a single serving, but when added to a compost pile they readily break down along with all the rotting fruits and vegetables.
Biodegradable cups are usually marked or labelled as such. If in doubt, ask the barista.
While plastic bags, Styrofoam and single use coffee cups might not represent a large portion of the waste stream volume wise, they do represent a significant visible portion.
Given that there are practical, easy alternatives available for all of them, banning them from the Yukon consumption cycle should be done.
It would be a fine start to getting Whitehorse onto the path of zero waste.
Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.