Shoppers leave Independent Grocer with plastic bags of groceries in Whitehorse on Feb. 5. Zero Waste Yukon is launching a petition that will call on the Yukon government to impose a fee for single-use bags across the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Zero Waste Yukon pushes for territory-wide plastic bag fee

In the NWT there was a 70 per cent reduction in bag use with a 25 cent fee

By Rhiannon Russell

Zero Waste Yukon is launching a petition that will call on the Yukon government to impose a fee for single-use bags across the territory.

It’s proposing a higher fee than the five cents some retailers already voluntarily charge for a plastic bag, with the money then entering the government’s recycling fund.

Ideally, the steeper price—for instance, 25 cents—would serve as a stronger deterrent to using the bags and encourage people to bring their own, said Ira Webb, Zero Waste Yukon’s program coordinator.

“I think some people are aware (of the five-cent charge) but I think it largely goes unnoticed,” he said. “Five cents is not really that much but when you start to increase the fee, it starts to add up.”

“It’s just the initial hurdle of planning your shopping and keeping your bags on you in case you have an unplanned shopping trip or something like that. It’s just a matter of getting in that habit. Once you’ve started to try to be conscious of it, it becomes very easy.”

The Northwest Territories introduced a 25-cent fee for single-use bags in 2011. According to NWT government statistics, in 2013-2014, there was a 70 per cent reduction in bag use compared to before the program’s introduction. Roughly 30 million bags have been kept out of NWT landfills and off the land.

The money collected through bag usage there goes to the territorial environment fund, set up to cover program expenses and create new waste reduction and recovery programs.

In the NWT, the fee applies to paper and biodegradable bags, in addition to plastic ones. “The production and use of paper bags requires significant inputs of energy and natural resources,” the government’s website states. “Biodegradable bags are made to degrade under specific environmental conditions. They do not degrade well under NWT landfill and environmental conditions.”

Webb said the goal of the Yukon petition is to have a fee apply to paper bags as well. “It’s about encouraging people to bring their own bags rather than switching from plastic to paper.”

The petition will first be available to the public at Zero Waste Yukon’s annual Indoor Community Garage Sale on Feb. 9. This year, the sale is taking place at the Yukon Convention Centre from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Over each of the past two years, more than 1,000 people walked through the doors, so Webb is hoping the petition will garner many signatures there.

After the garage sale, the petition will circulate through different locations around Whitehorse, including Raven Recycling, Yukon Conservation Society, and Riverside Grocery. It will be available to sign until the legislature’s next sitting in March.

Webb said replacing our single-use bags with reusable ones is a simple fix. “It’s an easy first step,” he said. “It’s kind of a stepping stone to addressing all the other problematic things like single-use cups and styrofoam take-out containers.”

He encourages garage-sale attendees to walk, bike, or take public transit to the event—and also to bring their own reusable bags.

Contact Rhannion Russell at editor@yukon-news.com

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