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Disposable plastics a short-term solution with a long-term cost: waste reduction group

The disposable plastics at the heart of a jurisdictional dispute between the federal government and the province are not as inexpensive as they may seem to consumers, says a Saskatchewan environmental group.

“They’re cheap because we don’t include all the costs,” said Joanne Fedyk, executive director of the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council.

Disposable plastics like single-use cutlery, drinking straws and plastic bags are core concerns for environmental groups who support the federal government’s move to impose limits on them.

Saskatchewan and Alberta, whose economies rely heavily on petrochemicals, called for a judicial review last March after the federal government listed single-use-plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, paving the way for a nationwide ban.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Bronwyn Eyre said the federal government could not declare plastics to be under its environmental jurisdiction. Last week, a federal court judge ruled Ottawa’s move “unreasonable and unconstitutional.” The federal government said this week that it plans to appeal the ruling. “That regulation is now vulnerable,” said Lindsay Beck, one of the Ecojustice lawyers who represents Oceana and Environmental Defence as interveners in the case. The case was moved ahead by industrial heavyweights including Dow Chemical, Imperial Oil and Nova Chemicals. One of their main arguments was that Ottawa did not demonstrate enough evidence to justify the regulation. Beck said Ecojustice is arguing the decision was lawful and that a lack of full scientific evidence — which can take years to collect — is not a sufficient a reason to strike down the regulation. “You don’t wait on full scientific evidence” to move forward legislation required to put a cap on the production of materials that have proven to cause significant harms, Beck said. “The petrochemical industry is feeling under attack and a lot of (the) movement away from fossil fuels causes them to put their eggs in the plastic basket,” Fedyk said. Cheap manufactured items may appear to support consumers’ interests, but taxpayers should consider the full cost of dealing with disposable products after they’re thrown away — including the need to remediate landfills and damage to natural water systems, Fedyk added. Kimiya Shokoohi is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The LJI program is federally funded by the Government of Canada.

Kimiya Shokoohi, The StarPhoenix