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Bye-bye single-use plastics: new bylaw in effect in Dawson City

The bylaw prohibits businesses from providing a range of single-use plastics, including shopping and produce bags.

Compostable and biodegradable plastic utensils, cups or containers included in bylaw

Dawson City's single-use plastics bylaw prohibits businesses from providing plastic shopping and produce bags, drinking straws, or plastic and polystyrene foam takeout containers and cups. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Dawson City's single-use plastics bylaw is now in effect.

It prohibits businesses from providing plastic shopping and produce bags, drinking straws, or plastic and polystyrene foam takeout containers and cups.

Florian Boulais, owner of Alchemy Cafe, said the bylaw is long overdue — even if it does create some challenges for his business. That's because compostable and biodegradable plastic utensils, cups or containers are included in the bylaw.

Boulais said he's not sure if any takeout utensils meet the bylaw's criteria. 

He said that places the burden on customers to provide their own utensils for takeout orders, but he's OK with that. 

"If you['re] sitting there with your meal without a fork, next time you'll probably make sure that you have a fork with you. And I think that's fine," Boulais said.

"I think we shouldn't just do all the thinking for people all the time."

The bylaw bans compostable plastic items. It's unclear if that includes all compostable dishware. According to the City of Dawson website, its community compost accepts "specially designed" compostable products, including spoons, cups, plates, takeout containers, and paper plates with no plastic coating.

Florian Boulais of Alchemy Cafe says he supports Dawson City's single-use plastics bylaw. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

'No viable alternative'

Peter Jenkins, with the Eldorado Hotel, isn't as supportive of the new bylaw as Boulais.

While he said there's a lot of good things about it, he said the hotel and restaurant will continue using single-use items because there's "no viable alternative." 

Jenkins said that while Yukon's Environmental Health Services doesn't have restrictions on people bringing their own dishware, it's his liability and insurance that's at stake if someone gets sick.

"You can't compromise in that area," said Jenkins. 

No concerns about reusable bags during pandemic: mayor

Wayne Potoroka is Dawson City's mayor. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Wayne Potoroka, mayor of Dawson, said businesses and citizens were the ones who pushed for the bylaw. The city says many businesses have already transitioned to a plastic bag-free operation.

Potoroka said he asked Yukon's chief medical officer of health if he cautioned against the use of reusable bags during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Potoroka said Dr. Brendan Hanley confirmed that reusable bags are not a risk at this time. 

"Basically he had no concerns with people using reusable bags and neither do we as a result," said Potoroka.

Dawson City follows the lead of the Village of Carmacks, which banned single-use plastic bags in August.

Mayor Lee Bodie said they have not had to walk that back during the pandemic.

"We've been advising people that they should be washing their bags."

Dawson City's single-use plastics bylaw also prohibits businesses from offering compostable or biodegradable plastic utensils, cups or containers. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

Bodie, who also works at the local store, said staff are sanitizing the checkout counter after each customer, in case there are germs on the bags.     

Meanwhile, the Save on Foods chain — including the store in Whitehorse — banned the use of reusable bags during the pandemic.

In a statement on its website, the company said it did that because of concerns raised by staff and customers. 

It's actions like that that concern Ira Webb with Zero Waste Yukon. 

He's worried the COVID-19 pandemic could set back the zero-waste movement. Webb said there's a misconception that disposable or single-use products are safer than reusable ones.  

"I'm hoping that that idea doesn't gain more traction in light of this. Because a reusable cup or something that's washed with soap and water is totally safe and doesn't really pose a risk."

Bodie in Carmacks said he supports stricter measures on single-use plastics and is waiting for the territorial government to bring in legislation. 

Nationally, a ban on single-use plastics could come into effect as early as next year

Ira Webb at Raven Recycling in Whitehorse, with about a day's worth of single-use plastic bags. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

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