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Six months to reduce plastic bags or ban considered

Grade Six students and grocery alliance make pitch to council



Sue and Bob Adams feel Whistler Council has wasted their time with a "political sideshow" as it grapples with the issue of banning plastic bags.

As owners of The Grocery Store, the Adams were instrumental in developing a plan in the last four months, at the request of council, to reduce plastic bag use in Whistler.

Their one-year education plan, however, was rejected in favour of a six-month trial period that must show tangible results of plastic bag reduction. Failing that, council will consider a ban.

"We do not have any more time to waste on 'make work projects' where we are made to look foolish and irresponsible," wrote the Adams in a letter to council just hours after the meeting.

"We feel we have been treated with utmost disrespect for the considerable time and energy undertaken in good faith, researching and taking very seriously a difficult and complex problem."

They will no longer participate in the Alliance of Grocery and Drug Stores in Whistler, formed with the express goal of finding a solution to plastic bags.

The Alliance's plan, presented to council Tuesday night by Bruce Stewart, general manager of Nesters, was to implement a resort-wide education campaign with a goal to reduce plastic bags by 25 per cent within the year.

It developed an in-store campaign with the theme: "Help Whistler Achieve a Plastic Bag Free Future" complete with a logo that will be used throughout all grocery stores.

"Like you, we believe in a plastic bag free future," Steward said.

Council also heard from representatives of Mme. Millen's Grade Six class at Spring Creek who asked that all stores charge 10 to 15 cents for plastic bags, in an effort to see a 50 per cent reduction per year going forward.

Two class reps, Breanna Martindale and Caitlin Hamilton, took to the podium Tuesday and made their pitch to council, telling of their three class shoreline cleanups.

"Our results were not good," said Hamilton.

In particular, they found 184 plastic bags in three hours of cleaning.

"Imagine walking from Emerald to Function and seeing a plastic bag every minute," said Martindale.

"We need your help to make these changes possible."

After hearing from the students, the Alliance, as well as Claire Ruddy, president of AWARE, council imposed a six month time period for change.

The Alliance must advise James Hallisey, the municipality's manager of environmental projects, of its quarterly purchases on plastic bags. The 2012 purchasing information has been submitted as a baseline. That will be used to judge the impact.

Council cautioned, however, that a ban was not out of the realm of possibility in six months' time. Indeed, it appeared as though some council members were ready to make the decision now.

"We need to make a decision on this," said Councillor Jayson Faulkner.

"The sun will still rise tomorrow and we'll have less plastic bags around."

Council's decision, however, disappointed both sides.

Half a dozen students waited outside the council chambers for the mayor after Tuesday's meeting. They were looking for further explanation as to why their request to have all stores charge for bags didn't gain ground.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden stopped to patiently answer their questions as she left Millennium Place, once again commending the students for making a difference and for putting the issue back on council's radar.

The issue, however, is not cut and dry, particularly in a resort town.

Councillor Jack Crompton asked Stewart about the reticence within the industry to ban the bags.

Is it about the customer convenience, he asked?

"I think the main concern is finding the right solution," said Stewart.

"Our main concern is doing the wrong thing — potentially banning a plastic bag and creating another problem.

"If it was a simple conversation we'd already be there."

Meanwhile, work is underway through AWARE on the Whistler Bag program, a high-end cloth bag, made of waste cotton, with Whistler logos, that would sell for about $10-$12.

"It's not going to replace the bag you get at Nesters," said Ruddy.

The bag program will be piloted at the Crystal Lodge in the coming months.

"We're going to keep working to add value to the education efforts of the Alliance," she added.

But without Bob and Sue Adams it's not clear where the Alliance now stands.

They wrote: "The Grocery Store will sell through back stock of single use plastic bags and ask that you (council) provide clear direction to us as to what you determine will be the suitable replacement bags that will be less than 50 cent cost to our business and to our valued customers. We expect you will be working on this within the next six months as you prepare for a possible ban of single use bags."


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