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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.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Another try........

CRD considers collecting plastic bags in recycling boxes
Recycling the ubiquitous items deemed a better alternative to outright ban

Bill Cleverley
Times Colonist

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Capital Regional District will investigate collecting plastic grocery bags through the blue box recycling program.

The region doesn't have the authority to ban the bags outright, and after discussing the issue for more than an hour yesterday, many members of the CRD's environment committee aren't convinced a ban would be a good idea.

Because the bags are so easily picked up by the wind, causing a litter problem, collecting the bags in the blue boxes has been viewed by CRD staff as problematic.

That could be a non-issue in about four years as discussions are underway with contractors and municipalities about moving to a single, large blue tote with a lid for collection of recyclables by 2012, Alan Summers, CRD manager of solid waste, told the committee. That idea could be fast-tracked and in the meantime staff have been instructed to open discussions with contractors about collecting the bags in the blue boxes.

The committee also recommended stepping up public education campaigns that emphasize things like returning bags to grocery stores.

Plastic bags make up less than one per cent of the waste at Hartland Landfill and Canadian litter audits show that plastic bags account for less than 0.5 per cent of household litter. As well, the majority of plastic bags are reused at least once.

But Saanich resident Lana Popham, who has been campaigning for months to have plastic grocery bags banned, told the committee that's not the point.

"I cannot emphasize more that if all the plastic grocery bags were to end up in the landfill, half our problem would be gone. Or, if they all ended up in our recycling systems, we would then be able to more easily focus our concerns. But the main problem is they don't all end up in those two places," she said.

Popham sees the problem as two-fold. The first is their production wastes oil and the second is that they escape into the environment, causing harm to a variety of species.

The committee also heard from Justin Sherwood, of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, and Bruce Young, of the Canadian Industry Association, who both argued against a ban.

Young said not only are bans difficult to enforce, jurisdictions that have tried them have found they result in even more plastic ending up in landfills. With no grocery bags, people buy and use heavier kitchen catchers and other plastic bags for their trash.

Sherwood urged a "smart use" approach with a focus on education.

Committee chairwoman Susan Brice said society has already come a long way in terms of environmental awareness about plastic bags as evidenced by the number of people carrying reusable totes.

Victoria Coun. Dean Fortin said the plastic grocery bag is one of the "most visible symbols of environmental waste" and it would almost be worth imposing the ban for symbolic reasons even if it can't be enforced.

But Metchosin Mayor John Ranns disagreed.

"We are educating ourselves. We are changing. We are seeing changes I never thought we would in terms of social responsibility. We don't have to make a law for everything, and banning things as a symbolic gesture I really have a problem with. It's not reasoned lawmaking. It's lawmaking through ideology," Ranns said.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young said that before any consideration is given to imposing a ban, staff should report on what the implications would be.

"Do people adjust? Does everyone start walking around with a string bag? Or, in fact does plastic consumption go up and stay up?" he asked.

"I've really had enough of political environmentalism. I think we should have a little bit of knowledge-based environmentalism, and that's what we should be doing first."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008