A plastic bag clings to the branches of a small tree in the ditch along Mountain View Drive in Whitehorse on May 2. Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker expressed support for the federal government’s announcement to ban single-use plastics by as early as 2021. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon government considering fee or ban for single-use bags

Minister John Streicker says he supports the federal proposal to ban single-use plastics

Yukon Community Services Minister John Streicker has expressed support for the federal government’s recently-announced plan to ban single-use plastics, but also said that the Yukon government will still work towards its own waste-reduction policies.

“It’s great that the federal government is proposing this,” he said in an interview June 11. “I hope that it happens, but even if it doesn’t happen we’re still going to work to reduce things that are getting into our landfills that really have a short shelf life.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced June 10 that the Liberal government will ban single-use plastics in Canada as early as 2021. However, his party faces a federal election this October.

Plastics that could be banned include straws, bags and drink-stirrers.

Likewise, the Yukon government recently ran a survey that asked for people’s thoughts on a 25-cent surcharge for single-use bags. A similar surcharge was implemented in the Northwest Territories in 2011, which resulted in a 70 per cent decrease in single-use bags by 2013-2014 according to NWT government statistics.

The survey is now closed, and Streicker said that the Yukon government is now considering two options.

“I think we’re going to one or the other,” he said. “It’s a 25-cent charge on all single-use bags, or it’s trying to ban single-use bags. Maybe there’s a middle ground out there that I haven’t considered, but we’re heading in that direction.”

The Yukon government is still in the middle of reviewing their survey results, but Streicker said that he’s heard support for both options.

“A lot of people signed a petition saying that a fee is a good thing. I’ve heard from a lot of Yukoners saying that a ban is a good thing. We’re just going to take all that input and then make a decision about which way to turn.”

According to Yukon Community Services communications analyst Kara Johancsik, the Yukon government typically defines single-use bags as referring to both paper and plastic bags. Whether a ban on single-use bags in the Yukon would include just plastic, paper or both materials still needs to be determined.

Zero Waste Yukon’s Ira Webb also applauded the federal government’s move to ban single-use plastics, but he would still like to see the Yukon government pass a 25-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, even if the federal ban comes into effect.

He argues this fee could provide an incentive for customers to transition towards reusable bags before the full federal ban kicks in.

“Even if a (federal) ban on single use plastics came into effect, you’d likely see a wait time for it to actually be implemented,” he said. “You’ll still have that short window of time where you’re hitting people at the store and hopefully changing some behaviours.”

However, Webb had mixed feelings towards a ban on single-use bags that could outlaw both plastic and paper bags.

“That would definitely be a more extreme measure,” he said. “People are still going to need bags, so I would be surprised if they got rid of them entirely.”

Both Webb and Streicker also expressed support for a surcharge on paper bags, although Streicker emphasized the importance of reducing waste overall.

“If what we do is try to eliminate single-use plastic bags but we push everybody to single-use paper bags, we haven’t really won,” Streicker said. “We want to reduce as much as possible.”

Last month, Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce chair Mike Pemberton called upon the Yukon government to implement a ban on single-use plastic bags.

He cited an “overwhelming desire” from the Whitehorse business community to ban them, based on comments from a roundtable meeting with the departments of environment and community services.

“(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.”

With files from Julien Gignac

Contact Joshua Azizi at joshua.azizi@yukon-news.com

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