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City leaders use Earth Day to reflect on environmental progress and promises

It's not all bad news on environmental front - ‘There’s so much going on, it’s really great’ Hilsinger says

“We’re encouraged by some things and pretty vexed by some other things. We have some big challenges ahead of us,” said Bill Cole, Clean North board chair when speaking about the environment on the eve of Earth Day, which is Friday.

Despite a laundry list of issues dominating the media landscape, leaders at the international, federal and provincial levels will take time to reflect and speak on what has been accomplished and what more needs to be done for the environment today.

Locally Cole said Clean North is actively focused on four main areas - climate change, plastics, invasive species and in getting citizens engaged in environmental concerns.

“We support Stack Watch Sault Ste. Marie which is an initiative that was actually called for by the provincial government for members of the public to report pollution. There’s a website that’s set up so that citizens can report pollution. Probably the majority of the logged entries there are focused on Algoma Steel and its various subsidiaries on that facility looking at stack emissions.”

Cole said Stack Watch is trying to engage both Algoma Steel leadership and the provincial Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to enforce environmental regulations.

Cole said people should ask themselves if they can switch to driving an electric car, do with one less car in the household, walk, take the bus, carpool or adjust their daily or weekly activities to reduce the number of car trips around town.

“These are all individual local, impactful decisions that individuals can make. There’s no one formula that works for everybody. We’re just really focused on trying to get people to be mindful and make informed decisions to lower their climate change footprint.”

“In plastics we are heavily involved. We’ve got a cooperative agreement with the City of Sault Ste. Marie. We helped the city to launch a program called the Plastic- free Pledge. The idea is to try to encourage local citizens to think about their plastics use and to think about ways they can reduce single use plastics in their own household,” Cole said.

Cole said utilizing reusable shopping bags, keeping utensils in the glove compartment to use instead of plastic knives, forks and spoons when going through the drive through, buying unwrapped produce as opposed to vegetables wrapped in plastic and using refillable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles are useful strategies to employ.

“We’re not in the position at Clean North to say a complete and total ban on plastics is going to be the answer to everything, but we expect the federal, provincial and municipal governments to take leadership and establish policies and legislation that helps reduce the amount of plastic that’s going into our landfills, particularly single use plastic, and to reduce the amount of plastics that are going into the environment and then are breaking down into microplastics that we’re ingesting in our food and water. There are a number of studies that have found microplastics in human tissues.”

“We’re encouraging our political leadership to try and get as well informed as they can when they’re making policies,” Cole said.

With a provincial election coming soon, Cole said Clean North encourages voters to do some research on how candidates have voted on environmental issues, pose questions to them on the environmental file at the federal, provincial and municipal levels and hold them accountable.

“We’re encouraged that the city has an Environmental Sustainability Committee with some really keen staff, with the Plastic-free Pledge,” Cole said.

Cole said he’s encouraged to see N1 Solutions will be taking part in a downtown litter cleanup in the areas near its Queen Street office beginning at 3 p.m. Friday, followed by a similar downtown cleanup from 11 a.m to 4 p.m. May 14 by Clean North, the Downtown Association and the City.

One elected official in particular - Ward 3 Coun. Donna Hilsinger - is environmentally minded.

Hilsinger and Coun. Corey Gardi put forward a motion that was unanimously accepted by council, calling for a single use plastic bylaw that will be put in place July 1, 2022.

“I was thrilled to get that unanimous support from council and that it‘s moving ahead,” Hilsinger said.

“We’re in the process of doing community consultations on single use plastics, like plastic bags and cutlery. A community survey has been underway since the 21st of March. There’s been a very large number of responses. There have been over 700 responses from residents and close to 200 responses from businesses.”

Community consultations regarding the bylaw ended Thursday.

“Those results will be analyzed over the next few weeks and the insights from that will help to shape that bylaw that will come into effect on July 1st. We were the only community in Ontario that is working toward putting something like this in place so I think that’s great for us, we were not waiting for other folks. There are things we can do for ourselves in this community.” 

“That’s a really good news story,” Hilsinger said.

“There are certainly businesses in Sault Ste. Marie who have already stopped using single use plastic bags,” she added.

“We all know the good news story from Algoma Steel. That is just incredible and it will have an amazing impact on our emissions in Sault Ste. Marie,” said Hilsinger of Algoma’s plans to switch to electric arc steelmaking.

“We have a working group looking at active transportation, stormwater management and regreening projects. There are retrofits underway in corporate buildings, we’ve been working on a May 11th webinar partnered with Garden River First Nation on solar energy.”

“There’s so much going on. There’s a lot. It’s really great,” Hilsinger said enthusiastically.

“The mayor and council prioritized paying attention to our environmental sustainability. A lot is happening. We’re working on planning and preparing for the electrification process for transit, the PUC is installing electric vehicle chargers at their east and west end water treatment plants, we’re looking at a new Zamboni.”

“There's a lot. It’s fantastic, and it’s all happened in the past couple of years. It’s great to see us taking initiatives and prioritizing our environment and the actions we need to take to make things better for us here,” Hilsinger said.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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