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Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Elected as a Member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly for the Constituency of Saanich South on May 12, 2009. New Democratic Opposition Critic for the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. Raised on Quadra Island and has an undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia. Extensive track record as a community leader, advocate and environmental activist.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Date With The CRD.....

Letter To Editors Of Local Papers:

So I did it. After months of preparation, hours of letter collecting, many interviews, time on talk shows, talking about it, writing about it, blogging about it, I did it. My 5 minutes in the spotlight came on Thursday, December 13th. I was allowed to speak for 5 minutes at the CRD Solid Waste Advisory Committee. But lets back up a few months. I began this campaign to reduce disposable plastic bags by asking many of our 13 Municipalities within the CRD if they could take action against wasteful plastic grocery bags. They said it was not up to individual Municipalities this was a CRD decision. I took that advice to heart. I knew I had better organize a lot support from our communities and have extra momentum when I landed in a CRD boardroom stating my case. So the day came. It was on Thursday. The boardroom was fancy. I was nervous. I had printed off 100 of my hundreds of letters of support and brought them with me. I had 5 minutes to speak…I took 8. What happened? They told me that it was not a CRD issue and it was up to individual municipalities. Ahhhh, time well spent.

My Presentation:

My name is Lana Popham. I am a resident of Saanich. I have come here today to ask you to recommend to the CRD Environment Committee, that by the end of 2008, a ban on disposable plastic grocery bag within the CRD will be implemented.

I know that is a bold request. I know that asking the CRD to instigate a ban may be too radical. I know that the word “Ban” can create controversy no matter what is being banned.

But I am asking for one, never the less. After my presentation, if I have not made a solid case for a ban then I have a secondary request.

My secondary request is that the CRD invests money into a substantial educational campaign in order to push a voluntary reduction of these bags.

I started researching this topic last spring. I began looking at my own carbon footprint. I started to audit myself. I began with the amount of km I was driving. This lead to trying to reduce the amount of fossil fuels I used per week. Because I live in rural Saanich and because I am on so many committees and go to so many meetings, I found that reducing the amount I was driving quite difficult. This led me to reduce other actions that used fossil fuels. The easiest one to reduce and actually completely eliminate was my use of disposable plastic grocery bags.

I looked at the amount of oil that went into making plastic bags. This includes the amount of oil and energy used to get the oil to make the bag, then there is the actual oil in the bag, then there is the amount of oil and fuel used to distribute the bags to retailers. So already, before the bags are even used they have a huge carbon footprint. A statistic from the US is that is takes 12 million barrels of oil to make the bags that the US consumes annually.

Here in Canada an average family of 4 uses 1000 plastic bags per year. This is alarming.

I then started to investigate other facts about these bags. I assumed they were a landfill issue. So I emailed Allan Summers. He didn’t hesitate to tell me that they were not a landfill issue. He asked me if I had ever been on a Hartland landfill tour. He said I should educate myself before I continue. So I did. I went on a tour with Tom Watkins. It was incredible. I learned how well the Hartland landfill is managed and I learned that these bags really are not a landfill issue at all. In fact they are 1% of the waste in the landfill.

So off I went to find out what the real problems with these bags are besides wasting oil.
And what I found out was shocking. The waste of fuel is an unacceptable but the destruction to our sea life and wildlife is unbearable. Our habit of convenience is escaping our systems. From what I have read, we are only recycling 1-4% of them. The rest of them are either being used as garbage bags, or escaping into our environment.

There are many reports that show the oceans are filled with plastic. A significant amount of this plastic is bags. I have a friend that is part of the Bowker Creek Society here in Victoria and he says that each time it rains heavily the storm water runs into Bowker Creek and with that storm water come plastic bags. This is one way they get into the oceans.

This escape is translating into millions of deaths around the world.
Floating plastic bags look like jellyfish to sea turtles. Dolphins, seals and whales will also eat plastic and, with a false sense of fullness, often die of starvation. When plastic breaks down into smaller pieces, smaller birds and fish eat it. This is well documented and is not insignificant.

Canadians alone are using 10 billion plastic bags per year. Why am I asking the CRD in this region to implement a ban? This is because we live on an Island. We are surrounded by ocean. The effects of plastics on sea life are happening in our oceans. You can talk to any avid boater in this area and they will tell stories of plastic bags getting stuck in there engines. It’s common.

The facts go on and on. Why do I think we are ready to take action to reduce plastic bags in our region? Because I have spent the past 3 months asking people if they are ready. And they are. I have hundreds of letters of support. These are people that I don’t know. They are people that I do know. They are people living in our CRD. They are individuals. They are Community Associations. They are businesses. They are David Suzuki, The Sierra Club, The Georgia Straight Alliance, they are Municipal Councilors, they are the TBUCK Suzuki Foundation, they are Dr. Sinclair Philips of the Sooke Harbour House, and they are MLA David Cubberly. And this is just a sample of people who are in support of the CRD taking action and being a leader.

This is not a new idea. This is not my idea. I am not speaking alone. All over the world people are taking action and asking leaders to take this small step towards less waste. It is a very small piece of the puzzle. If we cannot be brave enough to take this step it worries me that we won’t be able to take any steps.

San Francisco has banned non-biodegradable plastic bags in large grocery stores, Ireland has a $.20 tax per bag, France is banning plastic bags starting 2010 but will start in Paris next year, South Africa has banned thin plastic bags, and Uganda has banned thin plastic bags and has taxes on thicker ones. There is a big list of places that are taking action.

We need to be on the list of places that are taking leadership. The time has come to take this step. I don’t want to hear why we can’t do it. I want to hear how we will do it. We have plenty of examples from around the world. We can learn from the successes and failures in order to create a successful, efficient, friendly, publicly acceptable model. I am asking you to be leaders. I am asking you to make a move.

Lana Popham
Saanich BC