Quebec Cree community bans plastic bags, Styrofoam

The James Bay Cree community of Chisasibi has become the first in Eeyou Istchee to ban plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam containers.

Chisasibi residents taking the ban in stride: official

Leaders hope the move will help protect the environment and inspire other Cree communities. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The James Bay Cree community of Chisasibi has become the first in Eeyou Istchee to ban plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam containers. 

Since Aug. 19, local food sellers and stores have not been allowed to use or sell Styrofoam products or distribute plastic bags. 

The idea came up last summer during a local environment week, according to Matthew Chiskamish, the land and environment officer for the community of more than 5,000 people. 

"[During that week] the stores did not give out any plastic bags to their customers and it went very well," said Chiskamish.

He also says the local Chisasibi Co-op store stopped offering plastic shopping bags to customers more than two years ago.

"I went to the Co-op, I did not bring any of my own bags for my purchases I ended using a box because the store did not have any plastic bags," said Chiskamish.

This past June, several Chisasibi residents organized a clean-up of the community. (submitted by Natalie Paré)

The land and environment office also put out a public notice informing residents of the coming ban and wrote letters to local stores, coffee shops and other organizations to help them prepare. 

"I think the people have already started eliminating all plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, our local stores are selling cloth bags for purchase at the store," said Chiskamish.

Chiskamish also says Chisasibi elders spoke about the amount of garbage accumulated inside and around the community and were encouraging local officials to do something.

Matthew Chiskamish, the local Chisasibi land and environment officer in Chisasibi, says people in the community are taking the ban in stride. (submitted by Omar Chin)

The elders often spoke about how much garbage was left behind on the Fort George Island, where Chisasibi people lived until the early 1980s, when hydroelectric development forced them to relocate. 

"The garbage ... ended up in the river almost 40 years ago [and] the remains of the garbage in the river is still visible today," he said.

Chisasibi has been organizing a local environment week for about 20 years, according to Chiskamish, and has been recycling for the last six years.

Chiskamish says the hope is that Chisasibi will inspire other Cree communities to ban plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.