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Council looking to reduce plastic bag use

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Whistler residents and guests are using roughly four million plastic bags per year, based on municipal survey results of individual bag use, a stat that adds more fuel to the fire in the efforts for a resort-wide ban on plastic bags.

"I'm aghast at the statistic of four million bags," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. She later followed that up with the simple statement: "I personally am in favour of a ban on plastic bags."

She wasn't the only one at the council table and early indications appear to show at least some councillors are ready to do something about it.

But despite calls from Councillor Jack Crompton, with support from Councillor Andrée Janyk, to prepare a bylaw to regulate the use of plastic bags in Whistler Tuesday night, council was urged to be cautious.

"I don't think there are easy solutions," said Administrator Mike Furey, who wanted time to consult with community partners like the grocery stores before making a regulatory move. "I guess I'd ask for a little more time... There may be a full array of options that haven't been fully explored."

Crompton withdrew his motion but not without some frustration. "There's a significant amount of work that's been done already," he said. "This report is full of really, really good information.

"What are we asking for in addition to what we have already?"

Furey explained that perhaps Whistler could find a unique solution to the project, given that it's a unique resort town.

Janyk was also willing to accept a delay in making a decision. But not for long.

"We need to have a timeline on this," she said. "It's important... The solutions are out there."

A December 2012 survey of Whistler businesses shows that plastic bag purchases have gone down 4.5 per cent since 2009, or 1.1 per cent annually.

When Councillor Duane Jackson queried why people are still using so many plastic bags when 76 per cent of Whistler respondents in another survey said they favoured eliminating plastic bags, the municipality's environmental coordinator Nicolette Richer explained that it's like seatbelts — everyone knew seatbelts were a good idea but no-one really used them until it was law.

"It does take an effort," said Richer, of remembering reusable bags. "It's challenging to always remember when really there are no consequences for forgetting."

Richer also painted a vivid picture with a stat that shows there are six times more plastic particles in the world's oceans now than plankton.

In response to the concerns that resort guests don't have reusable bags when they come skiing, Janyk said she packs reusable bags when she travels. That's something the mayor does too.

"You have your pyjamas and you have your bags," joked Janyk. "I cannot accept anything other than: 'we've got to get rid of the plastic bags.'"

Other councillors like John Grills asked to see the issue of plastic bags within the wider issue of plastics recycling in general. Councillor Duane Jackson also wanted more information on the science of plastics and how much of a role plastic bags play.

A report on the municipality's solid waste strategic management is set to come before council in May.

And while the mayor recognized this is another task for staff, not included in the work plan, she said:

"I'd be a little disappointed if we had to wait another three months (for a report and recommendations to council)."

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