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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.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Recycling? How about reduction!

CRD: Recycling plastic bags in blue boxes too pricey

Bill Cleverley
Times Colonist

It would cost too much -- more than $530,000 a year -- to recycle plastic grocery bags as part of the blue box program, say Capital Regional District staff.

The recommendation to the CRD's environment committee not to collect the bags in blue boxes is disappointing to Saanich resident Lana Popham who has been campaigning for months to have the bags banned.

"I think it's decision-making at a snail's pace," Popham said.

"I feel that I've worked really hard to increase the awareness about the negative impacts of plastic grocery bags in our environment and the key thing is we should be willing to move beyond reliance on them and not enable an ongoing dependence."

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.

But CRD staff are recommending the status quo.

Instead of collecting the bags in blue boxes, the region should continue to lobby the province to expand programs to have stores collect the bags, the report says.

While collecting the bags in blue boxes is doable, it is expensive and there are challenges, "such as the bags blowing around neighbourhoods prior to collection, educating residents in proper preparation, contamination of bags with paper receipts and other contaminants," the report says.

Staff estimate the net cost of collecting and processing 500 tonnes of bags is $530,900 a year while the current total annual net cost of collecting all materials is about $1.3 million.

The report notes 55 locations in the CRD, many of them grocery stores, accept the bags for recycling. It suggests that if the collection program isn't expanded, plastic bags should be considered for the blue box program when the next contract is issued in 2012.

Popham doesn't think costs have to be as high as staff suggest. There's no need for hard tops on blue boxes to prevent plastic bags from blowing around prior to collection.

"We do paper in a heavy-duty plastic bag to stop them from blowing around. I don't understand why we don't have the same approach for plastic bags," she said.

Plastic bags have not been considered a huge problem at the Hartland landfill. They make up less than one per cent of the waste there 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.

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008