A different perspective on the Canadian single-use plastic ban

You may have heard that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that single-use plastics will be banned in the country by 2021, including cutlery, grocery bags, and bottles. This coincides with another significant announcement made to amend a policy made back in 2015 to eradicate water scarcity in indigenous communities by 2021—an amendment that informed communities that it would take longer than expected due to COVID restrictions.

Image: canada.ca

When we think about safe water in Canada, it seems like a no-brainer that it should be accessible to all of our communities. After all, our Great Lakes alone carry 18% of the world’s fresh water supply and water covers more of our land than any other country. However, 61 water advisories remain in place in First Nations communities—an issue under federal jurisdiction that has persisted through several generations. This lack of safe, accessible water leads to a reliance on water transported to their communities in single-use plastic jugs.

This is not to say that the federal government has not invested in solutions to this water crisis—it is actually quite the contrary. Over the years, billions of dollars have gone into projects to provide cleaner water to First Nations reserves. Even still, the problem persists; Canadians are living without accessible, potable water and would essentially be left stranded if single-use plastic was banned without induction of another transportation system or a resolution to the water crisis.

Image: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/water-treatment-plants-fail-on-reserves-across-canada-globe-reviewfinds/article34094364/

Numerous aspects of life are impacted when living with poor water and sanitation conditions and these impacts become more acute in at-risk individuals, such as infants and elders. They include:

  • Health and hygiene: Low availability to clean water leads some households to limit baths and hand-washing (something so important in the current COVID-19 era) due to fear of skin infections. Poor hygiene coincides with poor health.
  • Cultural life: Water is considered sacred to First Nations people and they recognize a relationship with and responsibility to care for water. For some, it is distressing to be unable to drink the water in their communities.
  • Housing: The high cost of water and sewage infrastructure in servicing lots for housing is something that contributes to the housing crisis, resulting in a shortage of tens of thousands of units and long wait lists.

Follow this link to an interview with a Neskantaga Chief whose community faced a severe water crisis two months ago and this link to some of the First Nations’ thoughts on banning single-use plastic.

Overall, the quality of life faced by these First Nations communities is impacted in a way that the majority of Canadians living off reserves do not experience and it is palliated with the water delivery system in place. The reason that such issues persists is unique to each community, but the common factor in all of them is an absence of a regulatory framework to hold the federal government accountable when their projects fail. 

The First Nations water crisis requires solutions that are more sustainable and systematic changes that transfer more authority from a federal to a local level. To read more about what this could look like, check out these articles:

Make it Safe: Canada’s Obligation to End the First Nations Water Crisis

Canada’s “Quick Fix” of the First Nations Drinking Water Crisis is not Sustainable

Money alone won’t solve the water crisis in Indigenous communities

By Nicole Cari
December 3, 2020

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