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Yukon moves to ban single-use bags

The Yukon government says banning single-use retail bags is the first target of amendments its proposing to the Environment Act.

Proposed amendments to Yukon's Environment Act would allow for a ban on single-use plastic and paper bags

Ira Webb with Raven Recycling in Whitehorse poses with about a day's worth of single-use plastic bags in this file photo from April 2019. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government says banning single-use retail bags is the first target of amendments it's proposing to the Environment Act.

The amendments, tabled in the Yukon Legislature on Monday, would give the government authority to regulate single-use products and packages.

Bryna Cable, director of Yukon's Environmental Protection and Assessment Branch, said the amendments are aimed at banning single-use plastic and paper bags.

She said paper bags will be included in the ban because if customers simply replace plastic with paper at the till, instead of switching to reusable bags, the environmental benefit of banning plastic will be lost.

"I think most people are very aware that we have a significant concern with plastic, but what is also very problematic is how much energy it takes for paper bags to be produced." 

Cable said if the legislation passes, there will be consultation on how to implement the ban. 

The Yukon government says a ban on plastic and paper bags could come into effect as early as July 2021. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Municipalities lead the charge

Cable said single-use plastics are cheap and easy to produce, but expensive to deal with. She said only about 14 per cent of plastics are recyclable world-wide. 

The Yukon government has said it spends about $6 million a year on waste disposal, with about half of that going toward getting rid of plastics. Cable said the increasing volume of plastic is an issue for waste management facilities.

Carmacks and Dawson City have already banned some single-use plastics in their communities. Carmacks banned single-use plastic bags in 2019. Dawson City followed suit in April of this year, banning business from giving out plastic bags, drinking straws, utensils and plastic or polystyrene foam takeout containers or cups. 

Dawson City's single-use plastics bylaw came into effect in April. (Zero Waste Yukon)

Wayne Potoroka, Dawson's mayor, said the ban has been successful. 

"It wasn't a big change in behaviour for a lot of people."

He doesn't think a Yukon-wide ban on plastic bags would cause a major ripple. 

"I would say that if people are concerned or worried about what it might mean for their day-to-day, I can tell you they don't need to be. It's just as easy to cart your groceries home in a cloth bag than it is in plastic."

Cable said the earliest a bag ban could come into effect is July 2021. 

She said the proposed changes to the Environment Act allow the possibility of banning additional single-use products in the future, such as cutlery, straws, or Styrofoam takeout containers.

With files from Claudiane Samson and Elyn Jones

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