Whistler taking steps towards voluntary bag ban 

AWARE campaign has already won converts

The call to ban plastic bags in Whistler is making strides, despite the fact that local governments in B.C. don’t have the authority to ban them under the Local Government Act — although local governments are campaigning to change that.

Kiran Pal-Pross is directing the campaign against plastic bags for the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE). She says more businesses are open to the idea of a voluntary ban, and some have already taken steps.

“Recently I went to the Chamber of Commerce, who expressed interest in helping out with a zero waste initiative which actually encompasses far more than just the plastic bags, so we’re happy about that,” said Pal-Pross.

“A lot of businesses have already started their own initiatives. For one, the Delta is handing out reusable bags to guests. Samurai Sushi is collecting 15 cents a bag for takeout, and say that people are now using far fewer plastic bags. (The grocery stores) have reusable bags available, and Lush has started a campaign, part of an international campaign, to get rid of bags.”

Pal-Pross is also encouraged by news out of other communities that have, or are in the process of banning plastic bags.

The first was Leaf Rapids in Manitoba, a town of 500 residents. Other communities weighing bans include Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax, while Toronto is imposing a five-cent per bag fee in co-operation with grocery store chains.

Municipalities in B.C. don’t have the legal jurisdiction to ban plastic bags, so towns are trying voluntary bans. Rossland has already lowered its use of bags by 75 per cent, and eight other municipalities in the province are considering or adopting similar voluntary bans, including Tofino, Ucluelet, Maple Ridge, North Vancouver, Vancouver and Whistler.

Nicolette Brinkhoff, environmental coordinator for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), is looking at a voluntary program that could be presented to council in an administrator’s report in the next two months.

“The most important thing is to engage community members so they understand the reason why plastic bags and plastic in general is not good for communities, for health or the environment… and see if we can propose viable alternatives to plastic bags and excess plastic packaging.”

The visual impact on the environment is one reason, and the fact that the bags take hundreds of years to break down into the environment. They clog storm drains and waterways, choke animals that mistake bags and pieces of bags as food. And recent studies suggest that chemicals in plastic may have a “gender bending” effect by mimicking estrogen, while also putting people at increased risk of diseases like breast cancer or heart disease.

Brinkhoff thinks it is possible to change behaviour.

“Plastics are still relatively new, they only came into use in the ’30s and it was hard to convince people to use plastics back then,” she said. “They changed that attitude, and we can change that attitude again.”

Pal-Pross’s campaign is also looking at improving the way we source reusable bags, preferring to reuse materials or source materials and labour locally. For example, she’s looking at making reusable bags from materials like tents that were abandoned after the Pemberton Music Festival, or public art banners that are being stored by the municipality.

“We also need to stop purchasing reusable bags. I think I have eight now and I don’t need eight,” said Pal-Pross. “We have to watch where they’re made, whether they’re made overseas, or from polyester. We should be sourcing the materials close to home, or reuse materials where possible.”

Canadians use roughly 10 billion plastic bags a year, according to 2007 statistics, and more than 500 billion bags are used worldwide.

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