‘It kind of makes my heart sing:’ Advocate welcomes federal single-use plastics ban

June, 2009, the plastic bag monster at the Squamish Farmer’s Market. (Photo: Adrian Jones/ Greener Footprints Society).June, 2009, the plastic bag monster at the Squamish Farmer’s Market. (Photo: Adrian Jones/ Greener Footprints Society).
Tracey Saxby is the marine scientist that kickstarted Rossland grassroots campaign to end single-use plastics in Canada over fifteen years ago. (Photo: Rich Duncan Photography).Tracey Saxby is the marine scientist that kickstarted Rossland grassroots campaign to end single-use plastics in Canada over fifteen years ago. (Photo: Rich Duncan Photography).
2008, students created posters to educate the community about the impacts of plastic bags, which were displayed at a Rossland credit union. (Photo/Tracey Saxby: Greener Footprints Society).
February 2008, Students deliver reusable bags to residents in Rossland. (Photo: Jan Micklethwaite/Greener Footprints Society).February 2008, Students deliver reusable bags to residents in Rossland. (Photo: Jan Micklethwaite/Greener Footprints Society).
April, 2007, Greener Footprints volunteers organized an Earth Day event in Rossland to educate the community about reducing plastic bags. (Photo: Carmen Adams/Greener Footprints Society).April, 2007, Greener Footprints volunteers organized an Earth Day event in Rossland to educate the community about reducing plastic bags. (Photo: Carmen Adams/Greener Footprints Society).

With a new federal law phasing out single-use plastics, the woman who first campaigned to rid plastic bags from her former city of Rossland said she is excited for the change.

Tracey Saxby, who now lives in Squamish, is the executive director of My Sea to Sky, a non-profit that advocates for protecting the Howe Sound Biosphere region. Fifteen years ago, she was a key voice in the movement against single-use plastics.

“When I proposed Rossland should be the first plastic bag free community in Canada, it is one of the things I am most proud of, it kind of makes my heart sing. But it also speaks to the power of grassroots that everyday people have,” said Saxby.

The new law will ban plastic bags, cutlery, food containers, ring carriers, stir sticks and straws. The ban on plastic straws will not include single-use straws used for accessibility purposes, according to details the government announced on June 20.

The federal policy is gradual, starting with a ban on importing and manufacturing most of these single-use plastics by December. Businesses can continue selling their remaining stock of these items for another year, before the domestic ban fully kicks in during December, 2023. By the end of 2025 Canada will no longer export any of the six plastic items being banned.

Back in 2007, Saxby’s idea about banning certain single-use plastics was seen as crazy, she said. Her Rossland-based group called the Greener Footprints Society managed to reduce the community’s use of plastic bags by roughly three-quarters in a year just by raising awareness, she said.

It all began with some emails and discussions with people in her community. At the time, Saxby did not know municipalities could not ban single-use plastic bags until after Rossland’s plans to do so were delayed, she said.

The city did not ban plastic bags until after Victoria won its legal battle to enact a plastic bag ban in 2018. New provincial legislation gave municipalities the right to ban single-use plastics last year. One of the key reasons Saxby believes her campaign was successful was that it empowered individuals with information about alternatives.

“We weren’t waiting on our provincial or federal governments to save us. Any individual could get informed and understand why their individual choices matter,” she said. “We’re very careful to not frame it as ‘you’re a bad person, you did not do this,’ or ‘you forgot your bag,’ it takes a really long time sometimes to make those changes.”

Today, Saxby’s advocacy focuses on a zero-carbon challenge campaign which seeks to inspire both individual and collective climate action. For example, governments could improve accessible public transportation while individuals choose to bike more often.

In Squamish, the Woodfibre Liquefied Natural Gas export facility would lock in climate pollution for the next 40 years, Saxby said, adding that communities’ transition away from fossil fuels needs to happen alongside individual choices to lower consumption.

A serious step in this transition would include banning new natural gas connections to buildings, she said. Additionally, the province and federal governments need to protect ecosystems that capture carbon.

Saxby advocates for identifying and reducing the part of your life that has the greatest carbon footprint, she said. This will be different for everyone. For example, Saxby kept her car for weekend drives but swapped out her natural gas heat for a heat pump that could warm or cool her house.

These steps are challenging, but possible if everyone works together, Saxby said.

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