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Viewpoint: Salmon Arm bag ban a first step away from single-use plastics

Climate Matters by Anisa Maruschak
Parading trees gathered at Ross Street Plaza after the Walk of the Woods parade, continuing to practice forest noises and swaying tree motions during the 2023 Earth Day event. (File photo)

Earth Day, held every April 22, is when the global community promotes environmental protection and climate action.

This year, recognizes the commitment to end plastics for human and planetary health.

Plastics have existed since the late 1800s and entered the mainstream consumer market in 1950 for textiles, fashion, toys, and domestic uses. At the time, scientists and communities didn’t foresee the human and environmental impacts of plastics’ long life cycle. As a result, we see plastic pollution in water systems, on land, in the food chain and in the human body.

Plastic debris in the environment has been a focus of plastics’ negative impacts. However, taking a life-cycle approach to plastic pollution, the harmful effects on human health are apparent.

The harmful impacts of plastics start with the extraction and refining of fossil fuels, as 99 per cent of all plastics come from fossil fuels. These processes, along with the manufacturing and distribution of plastics, release a variety of toxic and carcinogenic substances into the air and water known to have human health impacts such as cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity and more. The direct consumption of plastics occurs from using plastic products, which leads to ingestion and inhalation of macro and microplastic or the leaching of chemicals from plastic packaging into products we consume.

Once used, we dispose of plastic waste via incineration, gasification, recycling or landfilling. Collectively, these processes release lead, mercury, dioxins, furans and other toxic chemicals and microplastics into the air, water and soils.

The Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution released by the Canadian government in 2020 set the audacious goal of zero plastic waste by 2030. In 2021, the federal government classified plastics as a “toxic substance” under CEPA and the Single-use Plastics Prohibition Regulation was passed a year later in 2022, which prohibits the manufacturing, import and sale of checkout bags, cutlery, food service ware, can ring carriers, stir sticks and straws.

Following the federal plastic regulations, the City of Salmon Arm implemented the Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw, which phased out single-use plastic bags in 2022. At the provincial level, B.C. passed legislation in 2023, aligning with the federal legislation, banning plastic grocery bags, straws and utensils.

Further bans are expected in the summer, and we hope the city will restrict single-use plastics further.

Join the Shuswap Climate Action Society at this year’s Earth Day celebrations at Ross Street Plaza on April 20, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and share your plastic-reducing tips. Earth Day will feature music, activities for kids and displays providing ideas for sustainable living.

The Shuswap Climate Action Society’s Anisa Maruschak is a program manager with Foresite Canada