Thunder Bay

Proceed with caution on single-use plastic ban Thunder Bay advocates say

Viable alternatives to single-use plastics are not all readily available in Thunder Bay, a spokesperson for EcoSuperior told CBC.

Viable alternatives are not all readily available in the city, a spokesperson for EcoSuperior said

Shannon Costigan is a project supervisor with EcoSuperior. Paper straws, she said, are not as reliably available in Thunder Bay as plastic ones. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

A spokesperson for EcoSuperior in Thunder Bay, Ont., says the organization is happy that the province is considering a ban on single-use plastics; but Shannon Costigan says Ontario needs to proceed with caution because the alternatives to plastic products aren't all readily available in Thunder Bay.   

"One that we've seen here in town right now is the paper straw, but the supply chain for that is not steady yet," said Costigan, a project supervisor with the organization. 

"We need to make sure we do our research on where alternative  products are coming from, making sure they are a better product for the environment, and making sure that we can get them here consistently and at a price point that makes it viable for the public to use them."

Another area of concern, Costigan said, is take-out containers and cutlery for restaurants.  Alternatives exist that are made from biodegradable materials such as corn and bamboo, she said.  However, there is no coordinated purchasing or distribution for those products in northwestern Ontario making them expensive for individual business owners to obtain.

EcoSuperior is facilitating research into plastic alternatives and giving industry the opportunity to try them out through initiatives such as its Last Straw campaign, Costigan added.

The experiment with paper straws led to their adoption by more than 25 restaurants in town, she said.  

Single-use plastics helpful for people with disabilities, advocate says

Tessa Soderberg, an advocate for people with disabilities in Thunder Bay, said access to single-use plastic items such as drinking straws is very important for people with limited strength or mobility in their arms. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Access to single-use straws is particularly important for people with some mobility impairments, said Tessa Soderberg, an advocate for people with disabilities.

"For a lot of people who can't handle a drinking glass or a mug ... having straws available for those people is very important for them," she said.

While non-disposable alternatives are available, she said, she has questions about the cost, the possible inconvenience involved in carrying them everywhere, and potential issues around keeping them clean.

"The main value around plastic is simply its weight and the fact that it's much lighter than most other materials, so anybody who has limited strength or limited mobility with their hands, they may need to use different single-use items," Soderberg said, citing plates and bottles as other examples. 

It's important that the government ensure single-use straws are available to those who need them, she added.

"We're really excited that our government is starting to talk about new and innovative ways to deal with the issue of plastic pollution and it's prevention," Costigan said.  "However the idea of a ban on single-use plastics needs to be approached with a little bit of caution at this point."