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Resort Municipality of Whistler 'fired up' on plastic ban, but hurdles remain

Close your doors campaign deemed a success

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as the canadian Plastic Bag Association takes the City of Victoria back to court over its attempt to ban single-use plastic bags, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) is watching the proceedings closely.

RMOW brass are "fired up" to act on single-use items of all sorts (bags, straws, coffee cups, Styrofoam, etc.), said Councillor Arthur De Jong, who oversees Whistler's environment portfolio, but "we don't want taxpayers spending money to fight the plastics industry," he said.

The RMOW must tread carefully when crafting the necessary bylaws, to ensure they're actually enforceable (and won't land the municipality in court).

"It is a careful process and one that the RMOW is actively working through," a municipal spokesperson said.

"The goal is that any bylaw that council passes will be enforceable so that it fully lives up to the purpose it is written for—which in the case of banning plastic bags—is to tangibly reduce plastic waste in Whistler.

"Staff are currently working with legal and other local government staff to navigate next steps."

In February, the District of Squamish council voted unanimously to ban plastic bags and straws by the end of 2019.

While the RMOW is still working on the specifics, De Jong said the language of the law must be changed at a provincial level to empower municipalities to pass bylaws specifically for the purpose of reducing waste and greenhouse gases.

"I'm not an expert on the laws that frame everything that municipalities can or can't do, but we're going to work through it, and hopefully find the language and the will to structure policy regulations that will enable us to bylaw, at a municipal level, waste and greenhouse gas reductions," De Jong said.

"So that's where we're at. We're pushing the province."

In the meantime, the RMOW will keep a keen eye on Victoria.

"The cities with more financial clout are digging in and fighting it; let's find out exactly where they are and learn a lot from that," De Jong said, adding that he feels for the community members who want to see action now.

"I feel the frustration, and it's hard for me on the file, when our community is saying, 'Why haven't we done it?' ... I wish we had, but this is the right path to go down."

The RMOW came to a similar conclusion when it looked at forcing businesses to close their doors during the winter months (see Pique, Jan. 13), which led De Jong to partner with the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment on an advocacy campaign.

The campaign wrapped last month and was a big success, De Jong said at the May 14 council meeting.

"During Christmas, we were upwards of 30 per cent of doors open. We started the campaign in January, and by February, we were down to four per cent of doors open," De Jong said.

"Our survey has given us a solid database on who we need to continue to compel to do their part on GHG reductions. Hopefully by next winter we can have a bylaw to actually enforce door closure."

While there is plenty of "homework" to be done before bylaws are introduced at the local level, De Jong said he's excited about the long-term prospects of making the change.

"If Whistler can be a champion and a key driver on this, I think we're going to help a lot of other municipalities as well," he said.