A little more than one year after the Alliance of Grocery and Drug Stores in Whistler instituted a five-cent charge per plastic bag, the fee seems to have had the intended effect.
Shopping-bag usage in Whistler grocery stores has decreased 43 per cent in the last two years, according to an update presented to Whistler council on June 7.
"I'm pretty impressed with it actually, thus far, (but) I kind of figured it would happen in our town... we're all pretty environmental, pretty sustainable," said Bruce Stewart, general manager at Nesters Market.
"We're looking at close to a 50-per-cent reduction in our bags, so a big thanks to all our consumers that are embracing it."
While some customers questioned the fee when it was implemented, for the most part people have bought in, Stewart said.
"Realistically, a handful of people out of thousands (took issue)," he said.
"It's been very well received."
The Alliance — made up of The Grocery Store, Nesters Market, Creekside Market, Upper Village Market, IGA, Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall Whistler — first instituted a "Plastic Bag Free Future" program in 2013, which included education of staff and customers and promotion of reusable bags.
A Grade 6 class at Spring Creek Elementary also took up the cause that year, after finding 184 plastic bags during a three-hour shoreline cleanup.
The students collected data, created a website, wrote a letter to the mayor and eventually presented to council.
Jane Millen — the students' teacher — said she was excited to see progress on the project three years on.
"I refer to it from time to time to my subsequent classes as an example of how people can make change in the world, even without the right to vote," Millen said in an email.
"I am proud that I supported this real-world experience (it was really driven by the students). I think it is an example of how education is changing for the better; becoming more engaging, real, collaborative, involving critical thinking, contributing and communicating effectively.
"There is lots of this going on in our town; ours was just a small project that got passionate."
An outright ban of the bags was discussed at the time as well, but the council of the day decided an industry-led initiative was a good place to start.
"I'm really appreciative of the assistance by the local grocery stores and drug stores," Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said before the June 7 council meeting.
"I have to commend them, because they knew that if there wasn't a significant reduction that we would be looking way more closely at a complete ban, so they've done a lot to educate their client base, whether they're residents or visitors, so I really do appreciate the work that they put into this."
As for taking action on other problem items — like plastic straws or carryout containers — the mayor said there have been some discussions, but no solid plans in place yet.
"We haven't directed staff to take any initiatives, but that doesn't mean that won't happen in the future," she said.
The Alliance hasn't met recently to discuss next steps — or potential price increases for the bags — but Stewart said he'd like to see the five-cent-charge remain in place as long as the numbers keep going down.
"I couldn't give you a definitive answer on if it will be permanent, but I don't see any need or want or desire to change what we're doing," he said.
"If we can see a continued reduction, I'd love to see it as it sits. I think if we take the charge away we're going to go backwards."