On Tuesday night, city councillor Jan Stick brought forward a motion to ban single-use plastic shopping bags in Whitehorse.
“By banning plastic bags now we can significantly reduce the impact of plastic in our landfill and in our environment,” said Stick after reading her motion.
“The land around our landfill is inundated with this white pollution.”
Canadians currently use between 9 and 15 billion shopping bags per year and most of them end up in landfills, said Stick.
The bags take up to 1,000 years to break down and are killing birds, wildlife, fish and sea mammals.
Nearly half of all windborne litter escaping from landfills is plastic, and of that most are plastic bags.
With the help of Federal Gas Tax Funding, the city plans to expand its garbage-cart program throughout Whitehorse.
The carts eliminate the need for large plastic garbage and composting bags.
A ban on plastic shopping bags would be the next step in the city’s sustainability plan, said Stick.
“Some businesses in Whitehorse have already taken up the challenge of not providing plastic bags for their customers.”
One of these businesses, 3 Beans Natural Foods has been plastic-bag-free for more than two years.
“We were the first store in all of Northern Canada to do this,” said owner Marion Nigel.
“It really is a non-issue; we’ve been doing it so long that people come shopping expecting it.”
Initially not everyone was happy about the bag ban.
A disgruntled customer once slapped Nigel with Swiss chard, a leafy vegetable.
“We’ve had some ding-a-lings but you get ding-a-lings no matter what and that doesn’t change the fact that what we are doing is good and is right,” she said.
“But you shouldn’t focus on that because the majority are very up for this and it’s time.”
The store has sturdy reusable bags available for customers to purchase and encourages them to bring their own bags or boxes.
Nigel doesn’t even offer paper shopping bags in 3 Beans.
“In our books what is the difference between paper, which uses up our forest, and plastic, which litters up our forest,” she said.
Whitehorse wouldn’t be the only city to try and rid itself of the white nuisance.
Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, was the first city in Canada to ban plastic bags.
Ontario has committed to reducing the use of bags by 50 per cent over the next five years, while Quebec is looking at implementing a plastic tax.
Whole nations, such as China and India are thinking of banning plastic bags.
“As much as I believe that the motion is done in the best interests, I really have some difficulty supporting it,” said Councillor Doug Graham.
“The biggest single reason is again we’re trying to change behaviour by forcing people through a bylaw and I just don’t think that’s an effective way to do things.”
Graham agreed that plastic bags often escape from the landfill and litter the city’s roads but suggested that improving landfill policies or enforcing littering bylaws may be a better way to remedy these problems.
“I find that people are more inclined to follow a specific course of action if they see it morally as the right thing to do,” he said.
“And not being forced into it by a government, be it municipal, federal or territorial.”
“As long as plastic bags are made available, people are going to use them,” replied Stick.
“I just don’t think it is working because I don’t see less plastic bags around and when I go to the store people are using plastic bags.”