Edmonton councillor stirred up about swizzle sticks and straws

City councillor Ben Henderson introduced a motion at the utility committee Friday for Edmonton to study other jurisdictions that have already taken steps to curb disposable plastics.

City committee endorses Henderson's motion aimed at reducing single-use plastics

Edmonton city administration will look to other jurisdictions to determine what works in reducing or eliminating single-use plastic products. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

City councillors are moving toward a made-in-Edmonton solution to curbing the use of disposable plastics after agreeing Friday to find out what measures other cities are taking.

Ben Henderson, the councillor who brought the motion to the city's utility committee, hopes Edmontonians start thinking twice about single-use plastics ranging from straws to swizzle sticks.

"I was on a flight coming back from Halifax the other day and every time I ordered a pop, they just kept giving me little swizzle sticks that I immediately took out and put next to the drink," Henderson said. 

"Never touched it."

The motion Henderson introduced at the city's utility committee on Friday called for Edmonton to study other jurisdiction — like Victoria, Vancouver and Montreal — which are either banning plastic bags or are working on plastic-reduction strategies.

The successful motion came on the same day that Canadian fast-food company A&W announced it would get rid of plastic straws at restaurants across the country. 

Following the utility committee meeting, Henderson told media that relying on recycling isn't sufficient for dealing with plastics and other toxic materials. 
Coun. Ben Henderson said as much as people recycle, a lot of plastic is still ending up in landfills and in the water stream.
"We're certainly recycling what we get," he said. "There's an awful lot that we don't get and there's an awful lot that still goes into landfill and there's an awful lot that still goes into our water stream," he said.

Micro-plastics have been proven to cause health problems and plastic bags ending up in water supply have become lethal to marine life.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton supported the motion but wants to make sure future policies are sensitive toward people with neuromuscular or physical disabilities, who have difficulty swallowing liquids or even gripping a cup.

"Straws make their life not just more convenient but give them independence and safety as well," Hamilton said. "It's to me about making sure that we don't over-regulate to the point that people get left behind." 
Coun. Sarah Hamilton wants to explore collaborative options for reducing plastic before resorting to a blanket bylaw. (CBC)

Henderson said there will be time to consider those types of issues.

"We need to start by getting good information first rather than doing a kind of knee-jerk reaction to something that may have negative consequences."

Bylaw or private initiative?

Henderson said changes could come in the form of a bylaw restricting plastic products.

Hamilton agreed it's an option but also noted some private companies charge bags, prompting citizens to bring their own reusable bags when they go shopping.

"I think it behooves us to look at those options first, that's a much more elegant solution that trying to capture all of these different uses in a single law."

Henderson said the province will be key in regulating plastics with possible legislation on extended producer responsibility — policies that put a financial or physical onus on producers for treating or disposing of post-consumer products.

City administration is expected to report back with options for reducing or eliminating plastics at a utility committee on Aug. 23.



Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.


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