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Yukon government proposes ban on single-use plastics

The law could be used to ban plastic bags, but the federal government is also pursuing its own ban
A plastic bag clings to the branches of a small tree in the ditch along Mountain View Drive in Whitehorse on May 2, 2019. Changes to the Environmental Act introduced Oct. 5 in the legislature would allow the government to create new rules to how single-use products and packages are made and used. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

The Yukon government is introducing new laws to limit single-use plastics at the same time as the federal government considers its own ban.

The change to the Environment Act was introduced Oct. 5 in the legislature and would allow the government to create new rules on how single-use products and packages are made and used.

“Single-use packaging is a growing problem, but one we can address by reducing the amount of single-use products we use in the territory,” said Environment Minister Pauline Frost in a statement.

“Banning single-use packages and products will help Yukon align with national and international efforts to reduce waste in our environment and landfills,” she said.

The changes to the act refer broadly to single-use plastics and give the government the power to ban plastic and paper bags, but the specific regulations would come at a later date.

A ban on single-use plastics has already been approved in Dawson City earlier this year.

The town council ban in that community covers plastic bags (including produce bags and grocery bags), plastic straws and utensils along with plastic and Styrofoam takeout containers.

“Frankly people are already making appropriate choices,” Mayor Wayne Potoroka said at the time, adding that the bylaw was more of a situation where the town is catching up to what residents and local businesses were already doing.

Mayo has also banned plastic grocery bags, a decision made more than a decade ago, while Carmacks began its ban in August 2019.

The federal government announced its own plan to change legislation for a country-wide ban on many single-use plastics two days after the territorial government on Oct. 7.

That law plans to ban plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and food ware made from hard-to-recycle plastics.

Regulations will be finalized by the end of 2021. Canadians throw away three million tonnes of plastic waste every year and only nine per cent is recycled, according to the federal government.

“Canadians see the effects of plastic pollution in their communities and waterways and they expect the Government to take action,” said Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

Coral Voss, executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society, said despite the overlapping endeavours, it’s important that the territory lead the way on environmental issues.

“It’s a really important government moving forward on it right now. I appreciate them taking the initiative and in particular, I’d like to see what we’re banning,” Voss said.

“I think there is real motivation for this here in the Yukon. We’re sensitive to it because we have so many iconic species here,” she said.

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon said he had concerns about when the ban would be implemented and said consultation with businesses who produce and use single-use plastics would be critical when drafting the actual regulations.

“We’ll have questions about whether or not the government is going to fulfill that commitment [to consult businesses] and whether or not the impact on local business is going to be considered,” he said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at