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Whistler councillor wants plastic ban by summer's end

Ottawa's plans for countrywide ban should help municipalities clear potential legal hurdles
plastic ban 'Whistler is beginning to look as a bit of a laggard on banning single-use plastic," said Councillor Arthur De Jong at a council meeting this week. 'We are not a laggard; we are a leader.". file photo

with ottawa laying the groundwork for a nationwide ban on single-use plastics as early as 2021, local Councillor Arthur De Jong wants Whistler to follow suit.

Coming on the heels of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's announcement this week, De Jong, who oversees Whistler's environmental portfolio, said he expects a community ban to be formalized by the end of the summer.

"Whistler is beginning to look as a bit of a laggard on banning single-use plastic. We are not a laggard; we are a leader," De Jong said. "It's time to move on this."

Whistler has debated a ban in some form for years, with pushback from the retail sector and a fear over litigation typically cited as the main barriers.

As Pique reported last month, RMOW officials are said to be in favour of a ban, but fear potential legal repercussions after the City of Victoria was taken to court—for a second time—by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association following the introduction of a plastic-bag ban last summer.

But with Trudeau's announcement, De Jong believes the path has been cleared for the RMOW to begin implementing a ban of its own.

"When I read (Monday night) that the federal government was moving on this thing—and I need to do a lot more research on this—my sense was if the federal government is standing up and saying, 'We're going for it,' that it is a major icebreaker to get going on it and not be impeded by legislation," he said. "I don't want Whistler to be slow on this now. If we don't pick up the pace and drive it then we're not showing the leadership that, historically, we have."

Ottawa has remained vague on the details of a forthcoming ban—which has drawn criticism from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer—saying that the government will research which items it should ban and will follow the model used by the European Union, which voted in March to ban plastic items for which market alternatives already exist, such as single-use plastic cutlery, and items made of oxo-degradable plastics, such as bags.

De Jong's preference would be to focus on single-use plastics that he believes Whistlerites are already eschewing in large numbers. He said he recently spoke to staff members at the BC Liquor Store who estimated that "90 per cent" of locals refuse to use plastic bags at the store.

"When I already see how far locals have gone on this, the commitment is there, so let's formalize that commitment," De Jong added.

Coun. John Grills, who has a long career in retail, questioned a plastic-bag ban and worried over the environmental impact of reusable bags.

"The single-use bag, you need something to carry your product out from the grocery store," he said. "I'm also troubled by the extreme volume of reusable bags that seem to collect."

There has been some debate in scientific circles over what would make a viable alternative to the plastic bag. A U.K. study by the Environment Agency found that, to have a lower global warming potential than single-use plastic bags, a cotton bag would have to be used 131 times.

De Jong acknowledged that any ban would be a small part of a larger community effort to reduce waste, and said the initiative would have to be rolled out in "a responsible, methodical way" that allows businesses and households to participate in the most cost-effective way.

"Strategically, I need to look at where we make the greatest impacts, because ultimately it's about zero waste to landfill," De Jong said. "How much do straws really comprise of that? Not much. Food waste is huge, so I will always be asking the question: how do we drive better composting with the systems already here?"