Calgary group seeks ban on single-use plastics
While the U.K. has come out and announced it would be moving ahead with a ban on disposable plastics such as drinking straws, one Calgary-based group hopes that Canada will follow suit.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Wednesday at the Commonwealth Summit that she would be working to eliminate plastic waste by developing more sustainable alternatives.
Justin Trudeau, who is also attending this week’s summit, stopped short of following Britain on the ban.
"We know that macroplastics like straws are a significant challenge in the ocean, but we also know that both microplastics and nanoplastics represent a real challenge to ocean ecosystems," he told a news conference at the Canadian High Commission.
Plastic Free YYC, a Calgary group that has devoted itself to raising awareness about the global crisis presented by plastic waste, says that a ban is the best way to change people’s minds.
“Bag bans, straw bans, levies on bags, while controversial, they do work. I would argue that they work because they challenge the status quo on our behaviour as consumers and our behaviour as businesses and manufacturers and industry. That kind of change is what will flip the coin,” said Briana Loughlin, co-founder of the movement.
She says that plastics are a major polluter of Earth’s oceans, particularly with a phenomenon known as the Great Pacific garbage patch.
“This is now three times the size of France. It’s huge and we can’t clean it up because when plastics hit the ocean, they just continue to break down into smaller and smaller pieces until they are so small that shrimp can eat them. So when you’re eating shrimp, those shrimp have eaten plastic so then you’re eating plastic.”
Loughlin’s organization also helps people become aware of the dire need for change by holding community engagement events and getting businesses and the government involved.
She adds that Alberta is also working on developing a piece of legislation, called an Extended Producer Responsibility plan that could tip the scales in the environment’s favour.
“It puts the responsibility back on industry to make their changes so that the consumer doesn’t have to bear all that responsibility of removing the waste. What you see is businesses getting a bit smarter on the packaging because they are responsible for what they put out. They have to pay to remove that later.”
She says her group’s ultimate goal is to see a switch from the current linear waste system to a more cyclical one.
Druh Farrell, Ward 7 councillor, says that governments are taking notice of the issue and change is on the horizon. However, she isn’t sure that an outright ban is the right course to take.
“I don’t think bans are altogether effective until you’ve educated people to come up with alternatives. Plastic straws are completely unnecessary. If you need to use a straw, there are paper straws.”
She says that public education, pressure on industry and government intervention is what would work to fix the situation.
“We can’t do this alone. A lot of this is provincial jurisdiction or federal jurisdiction but we all need to work together to reduce single use items.”
Plastic Free YYC is holding a community clean-up event on April 22 at Shouldice Park between 12:00 and 2:00 p.m.
(With files from Stephanie Wiebe and the Canadian Press)