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Grocers Alliance to present plastic bag solutions

Council willing to wait until June while industry forms plan

Whistler's grocers and drug store retailers have two and a half months to present a solution to council on reducing plastic bags in the resort.

Council is willing to wait until the June 18 meeting before making any changes.

"We're going to do something," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

"Let's give private industry an opportunity to make some recommendations to us. Hopefully they're good enough for us and we can move forward."

It's an indication that while it may be willing to wait, council won't be willing to keep the status quo for much longer.

Council learned Tuesday night that plastic bags account for less than one-tenth of one per cent (or 0.1 per cent) of the annual mass of solid waste handled in Whistler.

Councillor Jayson Faulkner said that small number shouldn't dissuade Whistler in coming up with a solution to reduce its plastic bag consumption.

"The problem (on a global scale) is getting catastrophic," he said.

"Hopefully we'll see a good initiative led by the industry."

In a letter included in council's package Tuesday, members of the Alliance of Grocery and Drug Stores in Whistler explained their position and why a solution has been elusive to date, despite the issue being studied extensively.

This is not a simple issue, they wrote. They went on to say:

"As a tourist destination we need to provide some form of carry bag for retail purchases for our guests. The available science indicates that paper and cloth have a greater negative impact than degradable plastic and the reusable bags retailers have been using for years are risky at best.

"Our first priority in Whistler is to our customer and their positive experience in our stores. We are particularly concerned about the effect a ban would have on the valued resort guest. While some stores may already charge for bags, others to not want to add this spend to the customer bill."

The alliance will begin development of a new program to reduce single-use plastic bag usage and bring the outline for that program to council in June. The program will likely have a marketing and communications component and would set goals for reduction and timelines for reporting back to the public on progress.

While unable to ban plastic bags outright, council can regulate business, which could effectively control plastic bag use in Whistler.

"I too agree that an industry led response, at least initially, is a good way to go," said the mayor.

"The statistics really are staggering and we have to do something."

She also thanked the handful of Grade 6 students at Spring Creek School who attended the meeting. They were the ones who got the discussion rolling again on the issue after meeting with the mayor in December.

"It's had an immediate beneficial effect on my behaviour," she admitted to the students.

"I have really made a concerted effort not to use a plastic bag."

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