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Lianne Rood in a video screen capture
Lianne Rood | X

Plastic Politics: The Great Canadian Straw Debate 

Who knew a Tim Horton's lid could stir up such a political storm?

How often do you consider the feel of your disposable water bottle, the flex of your throw-away grocery bag, or the floppiness of the straw in your iced coffee?

Whether or not the intricacies of these first-world conveniences stand out in your busy life, you can rest assured that some of our politicians are laser-focused on these “essential topics.”

The nuances of feel and flex that we barely register as consumers are becoming an ever-more-heated debate among our members of parliament.

Tim Horton’s lids have become the latest political divide in Ottawa. 

Lianne Rood, a Conservative MP from Ontario, posted a video criticizing Timmy’s decision to test new plastic-free lids. 

The video went viral with over 2 million views!

“I’m done with Tim Hortons until they stop trying to push these woke paper lids that dissolve in your mouth,” she wrote in a social media post.

You may completely back Rood’s harang or find her assertion almost ridiculous, but Rood is far from the only one talking about it.

Even small issues seem to cause big disagreements between the political right and left. 

If people think the idea comes from the left, they call it “woke,” which is now a mocking term for anything seen as “progressive.” 

From the perspective of the right, “woke” means “political correctness that has gone too far.”

Lianne Rood | Tyler Kula | Postmedia
Lianne Rood | Tyler Kula | Postmedia

The Backstory

Why all the kerfuffle over plastic lids?

Well, it all started last year when the federal government attempted to broadly label single-use all “plastic manufactured items” as toxic last year.

The vast majority of items listed did indeed fit the “toxic” description, meaning items harmful to the environment or human health.

However, the Federal Court ruled that Ottawa had overstepped in trying to regulate the entire plastic industry. The case is now being appealed. 

The court stated that the term “toxic” was a generalization and that not all plastic products (for example, contact lenses, which are both non-toxic when used and show no evidence of largely polluting our environment) could fit under the toxic umbrella.

As University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski told The National Observer, “The court isn’t saying you can’t ban plastic bags—in fact, the court says very clearly there was evidence of harm for these types of things.”

They just didn’t find evidence of harm for everything.

The toxics plastics case opened up a whole can of worms that’s been wriggling around, causing chaos in the House of Commons ever since.

“They’ve [plastic manufacturers] not been regulated before,” Olszynski explained. “That’s the real issue here.”

Many jurisdictions worldwide are moving to ban single-use plastics  - photo of plastic dinnerware
Many jurisdictions worldwide are moving to ban single-use plastics | Canva

Plastic Straws Mean So Much More?

Conservative MP Corey Tochor introduced Bill C-380 to reverse Ottawa’s move to list plastic as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

It’s an interesting move, as the government reviewed roughly 600 scientific papers to come to the conclusion that most plastic is toxic.

The scientific research consensus indicates that plastic chemicals are known endocrine disruptors. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to hormonal imbalances, reproductive issues such as infertility, and even cancer in humans.

However, as Tocher stated in the House of Commons, “This is not about science. It is about government controlling our lives.”

Tocher’s primary gripe, like  Roods, was with paper straws.

“Soggy, limp, wet and utterly useless: we are not talking about the Liberals. We are talking about paper straws.”

Tocher is even promoting a petition to “save” the plastic straw.

The back-and-forth taking place over straws or lids is essentially virtue signalling.

One side promotes the practical and convenient use of plastic, while the other attempts to switch to a ‘greener’ alternative that is not as effective functionally. The former feels that too many regulations are imposed from the top down, while the latter feels that legislation is the only way to get people to behave appropriately. 

And plastic straws are widening the divide.

Person refusing a plastic straw
Is refusing a plastic straw now a political statement? Even while your drink is in plastic? | Canva

How Does Alberta Feel?

In November 2022, Danielle Smith declared she would “go to the wall” for the petrochemical industry (which is the source of plastics.) 

“Ottawa cannot assume regulatory authority over any substance simply by designating it as toxic,” said Smith.

“We will continue to push back against Ottawa’s unconstitutional actions, including through this legal action, until they listen.”

But not everyone in Alberta is on the same page as Premier Smith.

Mike Schulz, the vice president of Healthy Waters Lac La Biche, says that moving towards more sustainable operations is not a liberal concept; it’s necessary for the health of Alberta communities.

“Given that plastics are refined petroleum products, they are by nature extremely toxic,” he told Lakeland Today.

He’s seen the hyper-local impacts of plastic pollution.

With the amount of garbage ending up in Lac La Biche, he’s worried that the environmental impacts are becoming human impacts quicker than we realize.

Exposure to sunlight accelerates the aging of plastics, causing them to release toxic chemicals. 

These chemicals can severely impact bodies of water like Lac La Biche, which the community depends on for drinking water.

Microplastics are the other issue that scares Shultz as plastic never fully disintegrates; it just eventually breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that get into our bodies. 

“Imagine catching a walleye in the lake, one that has many of these toxins in its digestive system,” Schulz said. “Eating that fish can make a person very sick.”

Plastics Are Ball Busters

A recent study examining the effects of plastics on the human reproductive system found microplastics in the testicles of every subject tested! 

It’s no surprise that sperm counts are at their lowest in decades!

Rather than making plastic lids and straws a ‘woke’ issue, Albertans should look for practical solutions to reduce plastic use without resorting to what seems like heavy-handed, top-down government control.

Nothing pisses off Albertans more than having the feds “tell us what to do.”

But by working together, Albertans can create solutions “made in our backyard” to keep our backyards clean for all Albertans.

Regardless of our political stripe, we all want a healthy, non-toxic environment.

Plastic bottle on the beach | Lakeland Today
Plastic bottle on the beach | Lakeland Today

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