YOUTH VOICE: Action needed on plastic

Non-biodegradable bags need regulation, elimination, writes youth columnist Japreet Lehal.

It is time for our municipal governments and provincial government to discuss an issue that affects our environment and is given out billions of times.

It is long overdue to take action on the regulation of single-use, non-biodegradable plastic bags.

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

It is estimated (Surfrider Foundation) 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 also 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 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 that 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 simply cannot risk inaction in the face of the dangers that such pollutants could pose to marine animals and our 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, such as 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 U.K., retailers are also required to charge customers if certain types of bags, including paper or plastic bags, are purchased. The results have been quite 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 and causes in the community. In Northern Ireland, the funds are given to the Department of Environment, which also funds positive environmental initiatives.

Ultimately, any effective solution will involve greater dialogue and consultation by the government. It will also involve participation and feedback by community members.

The most important step that municipal governments and the provincial government can take right now is to start the conversation and take action.

Japreet Lehal is a Simon Fraser University graduate pursuing a law degree. He writes monthly for the Peace Arch News.