A plastic bag clings to the branches of a small tree in the ditch along Mountain View Drive in Whitehorse on May. 2. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

‘Why are we dancing around this?’: ban single-use plastic bags, says Chamber of Commerce chair

A public engagement period on a possible bag surcharge wrapped up late last month

There is an “overwhelming desire” from the business community for a ban on single-use plastic bags, said the chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

“Why are we dancing around this?” said Mike Pemberton, referring to a potential surcharge on bags that could be implemented by the Yukon government. “If we’re serious about recycling and environment, let’s make a statement. Just ban them. Be done with it.”

Pemberton said he heard comments from the business community during a recent roundtable with the departments of environment and community services.

The Liberal Party’s stance is that, in order to reduce the extent of bags that wind up in landfills, polluters should pay.

This would apply to single-use bags made of plastic or paper.

Community Services Minister John Streicker has held up a model used by N.W.T., a jurisdiction that has reduced the number of these bags by 70 per cent, he has said.

According to Erin Loxam, spokesperson with Environment Yukon, the surcharge used in N.W.T. is 25-cents.

In a now-closed public engagement survey, Yukoners were asked if there should be more or less of a charge, Loxam said in a written statement.

But if the end game is to reduce, why not just ban the things altogether, said Pemberton, suggesting that to do something else would cause a financial burden on the business community.

“Most businesses are gonna call it a tax. Like all taxes, we have to administer those, and there’s a cost to administration,” he said.

As raised by the Yukon Party’s Geraldine Van Bibber in the legislative assembly on April 17, she said this isn’t an environmental policy but a tax policy.

In response, Streicker, said, “I am totally in favour of eliminating waste in general, including single-use plastics and including paper waste; yes, that is the goal. That is the whole point of this goal.”

Van Bibber asked whether there would be an economic analysis completed if a potential 25-cent surcharge is to be implemented.

Streicker said he’s “always happy” to do such analysis, but that the government is in the middle of an engagement period.

“I am not telling people where we are going (to) get to because the whole purpose is to try to receive that input back,” he said.

The public engagement period expired on April 26. Loxam said a report on the survey results could be available in a month or two.

To avoid any potential confusion, Pemberton said the government “really needs to listen to the business community on this one. I think this could be a win for everybody, all Yukoners, if we do a complete ban on that plastic. We all know how harmful it is.”

He said that from this point forward “retail single-use plastic bags” should be the proper terminology.

“When you say single-use plastic bags, you could be talking about garbage bags, as well, so I think they need to clarify that.”

When it comes to paper bags, Pemberton said paper versions are likely reused far more often than plastic ones.

In his view, start with plastic, then, depending on how a potential ban plays out, tackle paper bags, he said.

“One step at a time.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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