Is there an appetite for a plastic bag ban in the Comox Valley?

With the City of Victoria’s new ban on plastic shopping bags five months away, what is the appetite like for such a ban in the Comox Valley?

The City of Victoria passed the Checkout Bag and Regulation bylaw last month. The bylaw, which will start being enforced in July, will ban businesses from offering plastic shopping bags to consumers, except under certain conditions.

Read More: Victoria first B.C. municipality to adopt plastic bag ban

“I think we can think of tonight as a new beginning,” said Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt on Jan. 11, the night the new bylaw was adopted by council. “It’s the first step — and an important step — in pursuing a broader waste strategy.”

The debate around plastic shopping bags has been going on for years, considering the bags’ environmental impacts. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that a trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide. Because the bags contain polyethylene, they do not biodegrade.

Other municipalities on Vancouver Island are exploring similar ideas to Victoria, including Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo, and Saanich, among others.

Read More: Nanaimo votes to ban plastic bags

Read More: Parksville to explore plastic bag ban

While Canadian cities in other provinces have implemented plastic bag bans already, Victoria is the first municipality in B.C. to do so.

The reason behind the ban was that millions of plastic shopping bags eventually end up in landfills or oceans. The City of Victoria claims its residents use 17 million plastic bags per year.

“We want to change behaviour; sometimes regulation is the way to do it,” said Victoria Coun. Geoff Young in December 2017.

Despite the environmental benefits, support for the ban has not been unanimous.

The City of Victoria’s new bylaw is currently being challenged in court by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association (CPBA), a non-profit advocacy group for plastic bag manufacturing companies in Canada.

The CPBA claims the City of Victoria does not have the authority to implement such a ban.

No talk of such ban in the Comox Valley

Despite the actions undertaken in other Island municipalities, following in Victoria’s wake does not seem to be on the political radar of the Comox Valley’s governments.

Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula said Courtenay city council discussed the plastic bag issue several years ago, eventually deciding to encourage retail outlets to offer cloth shopping bags rather than implement an outright ban.

Sundance Topham, the chief administrative officer of the Village of Cumberland, said the issue has not been a topic of discussion among Village council.

Comox Mayor Paul Ives’s response was similar to Jangula’s. He said there are many factors to think about before banning plastic bags outright, including cost, staff, resources, and enforcement.

“When you implement bans like that, you have to be willing and able to enforce them,” he said. “If we were to implement a ban — particularly in the realm of what’s been proposed by the City of Victoria — there would be significant resource issues.

“It’s quite the comprehensive bylaw and Victoria has more resources in that regard.”

Jim Abram, a Strathcona Regional District director who sits on the Comox Strathcona Waste Management Board, said he disagrees with Victoria’s new bylaw.

“Everyone talks about them as being single-use plastic bags. As far as I’m concerned, that’s nonsense,” he said. “They get re-used, if nothing else, for lining trash cans under your sink or in your bathroom.”

An industry-led initiative

Interestingly, an initiative aimed at reducing plastic bag use in the Valley came not from government, but from the business sector itself.

The Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce organized the grassroots “Grab Your Bag” campaign in 2009. The campaign distributed 75,000 re-usable “eco-bags” to businesses and schools throughout the Comox Valley on Feb. 13, 2009.

“That day, there were bags everywhere,” said Chamber of Commerce CEO Dianne Hawkins. “Downtown businesses, big-box stores, everyone had them. It was an entire community collaborative.”

The campaign also included an educational aspect to teach people why plastic bags are bad for the environment.

“A grassroots bottom-up approach is a great way to go because it engages people,” Hawkins added. “As opposed to penalizing people, it invited people to participate and get excited about an opportunity to protect the Comox Valley.”

—With files from the Victoria News

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