Yukon Plastics Gathering

Yukon Plastics Gathering Event

Yukon Plastics Gathering
Prepared for The Council of Yukon First Nations By Gamberg Consulting
Apr 24, 2023


A Yukon Plastics Gathering Planning Committee was created to oversee the planning process for the gathering. The Committee consisted of Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) (Neil Hawkes, Merran Smith), Yukon Government (YG) (Natalia Baranova, Amelie Jansen, Sabrina Kinsella, Jacqueline Mills), Zero Waste Yukon (Scott Dudiak) the Yukon Contaminants Committee Chair (Ellen Sedlack) and the contractor hired to organize the gathering (Mary Gamberg).

The Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre (Long House) was engaged as a venue for the event, and technical support for the audio/visual and Zoom components were arranged, as well as an audio recording of the event.

Catering was arranged with the Chocolate Claim, who provided coffee, snacks, and lunch both days. Dishes were arranged with Marsh Lake Tents and Events so that we did not have to use any disposable dishes during the event.

A graphic artist (Esther Bordet) was engaged to record the important points from the Gathering in graphic format, and to provide graphic summaries after the event that can be used in reports, as posters, or on social media.

Grand Chief Peter Johnson was invited to welcome attendees to the Gathering and Sean Smith from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation was invited to give an opening prayer.

The agenda was created to include plastics research in the Yukon and plastics policy on the international, national, regional, territorial and municipal scales. Appropriate speakers for each topic were invited to present at the gathering, either in person or by Zoom, and included representatives from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the University of Toronto, Memorial University, University of Laval at Rimouski, BC Government, Yukon Government, City of Dawson, Zero Waste Yukon/Raven Recycling, and local researchers. Two keynote presenters were also invited: Dr. David Suzuki to present a broad overview of the state of the environment and Dr. Jennifer Provencher to provide an overview of plastics in the environment. The agenda is attached to this document (Appendix 1). The City of Whitehorse had planned to attend and present at the Gathering but was unable to due to changes in staffing.

To add local interest to the Gathering, several local groups were approached to provide short videos of ways that they were helping to manage plastics in the Yukon. Videos from the following groups were presented at the gathering: Love2Thrift Whitehorse Community Thrift Store, Mt. Lorne Transfer Station, Repair Café Whitehorse, and Joyce Majiski (artist). In addition, we arranged for a local business called the Refillery to bring three carboys of their products (hand soap, dish soap and laundry detergent) to the event the first day. Glass mason jars were purchased so that each attendee could fill up two jars with their choice of product to take home. The intent was to let people have an experience of refilling glass jars rather than 2 buying the same product in plastic. On the second day we invited two local artists (Joyce Majiski and Marty Ritchie) who reuse old clothing to create art to present some of their work at a side table that people could view throughout the day. The intent was to encourage people to think of ways to use items they might otherwise discard.

Under the guidance of the Planning Committee, a list was drawn up of groups/people to invite to the gathering, either in person or via Zoom. They included all Yukon First Nation Governments, the transboundary Taku River Tlinget First Nation (Atlin, BC), the Council of Yukon First Nations, Renewable Resource Councils, Local Area Councils, municipalities, the Association of Yukon Communities, Raven Recycling/Zero Waste Yukon, Blue Bin Recycling, Yukon Government, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Northern Contaminants Program Secretariat, and the First Nations Waste Management Initiative (Indigenous Services Canada). A letter of invitation was drafted, approved by the Planning Committee, and sent to each group on the list, and travel funds were offered to First Nation representatives. Several reminders were sent to invitees to remind them of the Gathering and to determine whether they would attend virtually or in person. A slight complication was encountered the week before the Gathering, as the Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Yukon recommended limiting social gatherings to smaller numbers with increased spacing among attendees. As a result, some people chose to attend virtually rather than in-person, and in the physical venue, chairs were spaced 2 meters apart and attendees were asked to wear masks except when they were seated. A Covid-19 Operational Plan was created for the Gathering and approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Since the Gathering was not open to the public, it was not widely advertised. However, CYFN did create and issue a press release about the Gathering.

A week before the event, a ‘backgrounder’ of plastics policy on international, national, regional, territorial, and municipal scales was created and sent to participants along with the finalized agenda and instructions for joining the meeting using the Zoom platform. The backgrounder is attached to this document (Appendix 2). In addition, a reminder was sent to all those planning to attend in person, that if they felt sick or had any symptoms of Covid-19, they should stay home and attend the event virtually.

The Event

The Gathering took place Nov 2 and 3, 2021 at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Center Long House, as planned. People presented and attended both virtually and in person. In total, 61 people attended the gathering, 32 in person and 29 online.

Sean Smith a member of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation gave an opening prayer, Grand Chief Peter Johnson welcomed everyone and spoke of the importance of this type of work, and Neil Hawkes (CYFN) provided further opening remarks and introduced the presenters during the event. Dr. David Suzuki gave an impassioned talk on the plight of the planet and Dr. Jennifer Provencher (Environment and Climate Change Canada) gave a broad context of plastics in the environment. Most of the rest of the day was engaged with plastics research, including grass roots research from Nunatsiavut, microplastics research in Yukon air, snow, water and fish and the toxic effects of chemicals that are associated with plastics. There was a mix of in person and Zoom presentations, and there were opportunities for questions after each talk, from in person and online participants. We finished off the day starting to talk about plastics policy in Yukon NGOs. Esther Bordet the Graphic recorder captured the day’s events with visual representations, photos of the original graphic recordings can be seen in Appendix 5 and a summary in Figure 1.

The second morning consisted of presentations and discussions on plastics policy at different levels of government. As with the first day, there was a mix of in person and online presentations, with time for questions and discussion after each presentation. Joyce Majiski and Marty Ritchie had several side tables to display the art they created using old clothing, to demonstrate possible uses for things that might otherwise be discarded. This was well received. In the afternoon breakout groups discussed the following questions with respect to research and policy:

  • What should the next steps be?
  • What are the unique needs of the Yukon, particularly remote communities?
  • What are the issues in your communities? What works and what doesn’t?
  • What can we do locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally?

The four breakout groups (three in person and one on Zoom) brought the highlights of their discussions back to the large group before we ended the Gathering.

Figure 1 Synthesis of Graphic Recording

Summary of Presentations

David Suzuki set the broad context of the general plight of our planet and Jennifer Provencher focused in on plastics in the environment in our two keynote speeches. We then moved into presentations and discussions on community-based research, plastics in Arctic air, Yukon air, water, and fish. We addressed the toxicity of plastic-related chemicals in wildlife. Switching to plastics management policy, we heard presentations on international, national, regional, territorial, and municipal levels of government and also discussed the role of Yukon NGOs. A summary of each presentation is included in Appendix 3.

Research shows us that plastics, particularly microplastics and nanoplastics are ubiquitous. They can be found in water, snow, ice, plants, wildlife, ourselves and in the very air we breathe. Plastics can impact wildlife by obstructing the gastrointestinal tract and can also introduce contaminants that adhere to the plastics (e.g. phthalates) as well as plastic additives (e.g. UV stabilizers) that can have toxic effects. Currently, in the Yukon, microplastics are being measured in air, water, snow and fish. There is a need for standardized methodologies for sampling abiotic and biotic matrices and for laboratory analysis of micro and nanoplastics.

Overall, the impact of plastics in the environment and the importance of developing plastics management strategies is widely recognized and is happening at all levels of government. It needs streamlining and integration among the various levels of governments and that is also in progress. Plastics management is currently happening in the Yukon through the Beverage Container Regulation, transfer credit funding model, designated materials regulations, and voluntary recycling programs supported by YG. Single use plastic bags (with some exceptions) will be banned in the Yukon on January 1, 2022, and the City of Dawson has adopted a bylaw banning single use plastics including straws, utensils, take-out food packaging and plastic bags. Extended Producer Responsibility is scheduled for implementation in the Yukon by 2025 and will require producers to be responsible for the ‘end of life’ of their products and packaging.

Participant Recommendations

Specific discussion points from each group are detailed in Appendix 4. The following is a summary of the recommendations.


  • Encourage collaboration among researchers, Yukon First Nations, Renewable Resource councils and communities and ensure that results are brought back to the communities. (Community priorities could be identified through surveys.
  • Develop standard terminology and methods of measuring plastics in the environment.
  • Assess the state of plastics knowledge in the Yukon to identify data gaps and guide research in the territory. (Create a central database for plastics research in the Yukon).
  • Identify priority areas for research.
  • Monitoring (Environmental monitoring priorities could include air, water, ice, glaciers, and snow to assess atmospheric deposition, fish and other wildlife, and snow dumps. ‘Baseline’ studies are important, but there are virtually no areas that are currently unaffected by plastics. Include research into the sources of plastics. Health effects of plastics, plastic additives and plastic contaminants on both wildlife and humans (indoor air quality could be a priority for human health); include cumulative effects. Identify indicator species for monitoring plastics and biomarkers for monitoring the effects of plastics on human health).
  • Innovative solutions for waste reuse/recycling for the Yukon. (Explore how to use plastics as an energy source when other options are not viable, eg recycling. Rethink primary production of material to ensure it can be reused or recycled. Consider plastic alternatives).

Public Engagement and Communication

  • Encourage collaboration and communication among researchers, governments, communities and Yukon First Nations Provide education and data communication tools that are appropriate for the audience. Some ideas include: Short videos and social media could be effective tools. Present plastics information at gatherings (CYFN and Yukon First Nation General Assemblies, schools, community town halls). Involve schools and children to normalize responsible waste management.


  • Harmonize waste management practices among local, territorial, regional, and national levels of government.
  • Implement waste management practices that acknowledge unique challenges in each community; incentivize with rebates and consequences; ensure infrastructure needed to responsibly manage plastics is built and funded.
  • Implement extended producer responsibility (EPR) in the Yukon and lobby the federal government to harmonize EPR across Canada.
  • Enforce waste regulations as a priority for commercial and mining legislation.
  • Create standards for manufacturing; ban problematic plastic materials.
  • Create a ‘plastic-free’ certification for products.
  • Consider the possibility of making it a requirement to monitor microplastics as part of obtaining a Water License or any project requiring review by YESAB or Yukon Water Board.

Suggested Next Steps:

The key participant suggestions have been summarized in Figure 2 below. There are some clear roles for primary leads:

Yukon Contaminants Committee, is an existing committee and was established to support research on contaminants in the Yukon. It is clear that plastics are a contaminant in the Yukon and the Yukon Contaminants Committee could reasonably take on the responsibility of coordinating further research in this area.

Territorial and Federal Governments, have a role to play in establishing and enforcing policy relating to plastics.

Figure 2

Appendix PDF