COLUMN: Plastic pollution – start the dialogue

It is estimated that on a yearly basis in Canada, 2.86 billion plastic bags are used, much to the detriment of the environment.

It is time to discuss an issue that affects our environment. Action is long overdue on the regulation of single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Victoria city council is discussing the idea. It is time for Surrey and Delta to make their voice heard on this important matter as well.

It is estimated that on a yearly basis in Canada, 2.86 billion plastic bags are used.

In the past, the provincial government did not allow action on this matter to proceed, when Vancouver wanted to ban the use of single-use plastic bags. However, with renewed momentum on this issue in Victoria, other cities have an opportunity to explore solutions and encourage the provincial government to introduce ways to address the problem.

Plastic in the ocean has led to the death of thousands of marine animals and has polluted pristine waters. It can take hundreds of years for plastic to decompose. This plastic pollution affects ecosystems and ultimately the health and well-being of our planet. Alternatives to plastic bags, such as cloth bags which can be re-used for a fairly long period of time, are more eco-friendly.

Marine life is also threatened because according to the United Nations Environment Programme 2011 Yearbook, plastics in the ocean can “absorb” pollutants, including PCBs. This can lead to “endocrine disruption affecting reproduction, increases in the frequency of genetic mutations (mutagenicity) and a tendency to cause cancer (carcinogenicity).”

While the research is not fully comprehensive and definitive, plastic pollution could negatively affect human health. We cannot risk inaction in the face of the dangers that such pollutants could pose to marine animals and human health.

In recent years, the extent of this problem has come to light and the need to find ways to stop any more harm has become urgent. Jurisdictions around the world have made efforts regarding plastic bag use.

In the U.S., numerous cities have introduced bans, including Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and many others. Municipalities in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec have also introduced bans. In Seattle, the city has a plastic bag ban and also introduced a five-cent fee for paper bags. At the same time, it has made reasonable exemptions in the law. In Ireland, a plastic bag tax was introduced, and the money generated from the tax goes to an Environment Fund. In the UK, retailers are also required to charge customers if certain types of bags, including paper or plastic, are purchased. The results have been positive and there has been a significant decrease in use.

In England, Scotland and Wales, retailers are encouraged to provide the funds generated from the charges to positive  initiatives in the community. In Northern Ireland, the funds are given to the Department of Environment.

Ultimately, any effective solution will involve greater dialogue. It will also involve consultation with and feedback from community members. The most important step that municipal and provincial governments can take right now is to start the conversation.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursing a law degree. He writes regularly for The Leader.


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