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Plastic bags won't be accepted at recycling centres

Asian markets no longer accepting recycled plastic unless it's clean




All film plastics, including plastic bags, are headed for the landfill as of Jan. 1, 2011.

Carney's Waste System will no longer recycle plastic bags. The decision was reached Tuesday afternoon in negotiations between the waste management company and the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"It is a terrible thing. A very terrible thing, in fact," said Nicolette Richer, environmental coordinator for the RMOW.

She explained to council on Tuesday night that the reason behind the decision was due mainly to contamination of the plastic. All plastics, once they are recycled, are sold to Asia, one of the world's largest buyers of the product. China has a law demanding that all plastic packaging be clean, and if a company is found with contaminated plastic three times, their business license is revoked.

Carney's has found that most of the plastic bags and other film plastics coming through the recycling bins are not clean enough to be resold.

Richer said the two parties were able to settle on saving type 6 and 7 plastics, including food and drink containers, for the time being but Richer said it's important for people to clean these plastics before recycling them. If Carney's finds dirty plastics in the recycling bins they will be placed in the landfill.

Number 6 plastics are the Styrofoam and meat packaging containers. Number 7 plastics include food and beverage containers.

"What Carney's is proposing is if these items are not clean, and they're going to try it out for the next three months, but if they're not clean they will not be accepting any food and beverage containers," she said.

"Obviously we have to communicate that these bottles need to be cleaned," said Councillor Chris Quinlan.

However, people can still recycle their plastic bottles to the Encorp Return-It bottle depot.

This news came at the beginning of a staff administrative report asking council to approve the first steps toward implementing a reusable bag program for Whistler. The first step will be an education program through communication and community engagement. That may lead to the banning of plastic bags in retail stores.

Council voted unanimously to begin the first baby step, which is meant to educate the community on the "pros and cons of reusable bags" and the "cons and pros of plastic bags."

Richer, in her report, said that a reusable bag program will move Whistler toward its Whistler2020 and Zero Waste goals by decreasing land filling. She also found businesses that implement a reusable bag program could save $162 million a year by banning plastic bags, and could earn up to $3.62 million by selling reusable bags.

According to a survey issued by AWARE between 2007 and 2008, 76 per cent of those surveyed said they were in favour of a plastic bag ban. Nineteen per cent of those were visitors and only .025 per cent said they would shop elsewhere if Whistler was plastic shopping bag-free.

"We know that industry is not going to tackle (this issue) so we obviously have to find alternative solutions, which is why we're here," Richer said.

This is the first step toward such a program that has taken over a year for council to agree on a direction. In October, Richer asked council to implement the reusable bag program, immediately banning plastic bags throughout the resort. Some councillors thought this strategy would be too jarring for community members and visitors alike. They asked Richer to come back and consider more of a "phase it in approach."

"This is obviously much more challenging than it appeared. At first it seemed like eliminating plastic bags was the way to go and then we've had these other issues," said Mayor Ken Melamed. He said the recommendations presented to council are a good way to work toward a voluntary reusable bag program.

But some of the sentiments issued the last time the issue came up were echoed at this week's meeting. Councillor Ted Milner was concerned that discussion was revolving around the community and virtually no weight was given to the tourists.

"We're trying to run a resort here," he said. "Are you going to sell them all these $2 bags after charging them to park? Where does it end?"

He said that businesses would likely have to give the reusable bags away and expressed concern about who would end up footing that bill.

"I don't think we need to be adding costs upon costs for guests who want to go shopping," he said.

Councillor Tom Thomson, in a show of civic pride and good will, suggested "we" - though he didn't specify who "we" are - can design a reusable bag with Whistler's logo on it that is given away and "promotes Whistler in some way.

"When you come to Whistler, Whistler comes home with you," he said.