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Posted: December 17, 2019

Single-use plastic bag ban discussed again

By Stephanie Stevens

An addition to the District of Invermere (DOI) regularly scheduled meeting agenda Dec. 10 saw a fervent request regarding single-use plastic bags.

Stephanie Van De Kemp, Invermere resident and business owner, brought a petition signed by 1,055 people calling on the DOI council to implement a ban on single use plastics.

“This is a huge environmental problem and a huge solid waste issue,” said Van de Kemp, adding that both Sobey’s and AG Valley Foods in Invermere are on board with eliminating plastic bags.

She also noted that in the 2018 referendum the DOI included with the election, 727 people said yes to a plastic ban, but that is seems to have fallen by the wayside while the purchase of the Lake Windermere Resort lands received 682 yes votes and went ahead.

“I am not asking for a committee or a draft proposal, I want action,” said Van de Kemp, noting that other municipalities have already enacted bans and Montreal “is aiming for zero plastic waste by 2030.”

She would like to see the DOI create “a comprehensive zero plastic strategy and help create a behaviour that says bring your own bag.”

Councillor Kayja Becker, who has been a vocal advocate of eliminating single use plastic as well, thanked Van de Kemp for her presentation.

Coun. Gerry Taft

Coun. Gerry Taft said that aside from the issue of single use plastic being one on a long list of projects, there tends to be a vocal pushback regarding the issue from those opposed to it and asked what Van de Kemp’s response to it is.

“When we elect leaders, we entrust them to make decisions that will benefit us, like the no smoking in public bylaw,” she said. “Government makes decisions all the time that are for the greater good.”

Another member of the gallery, Sophie Timmermans, stood up to add her voice to Van de Kemp’s, saying she sees the fear of backlash.

“I moved here (from Belgium) in 2011 with my husband,” she said. “I see you are afraid, but other countries are not. My family and friends who visit are always shocked at the plastic bags here, even for a little pack of gum. I love it here, but I am ashamed of this one part and I am not afraid to talk to those people opposed (to a plastics ban).”

Coun. Ute Juras said she did not think it was entirely fair to say the DOI was afraid of backlash and the plastic ban is still on their list of priorities.

“We did try to put together a committee on this, something which failed miserably, and as you say we maybe do not need one,” said Juras. “Businesses are already starting to get rid of them, and we are going to continue to work with them on this.”

Following the rest of the meeting, during the second public question period, Van de Kemp spoke up again, asking what the next steps are for the DOI.

Mayor Al Miller said advocating will still be ongoing and discussions with vendors would be a necessary step. “We don’t want to just sit here and enforce something… I think we will see a natural flow.”

Van de Kemp then asked if a bylaw was not on the table.

“Not for now,” Miller responded. “It needs to be fair and equitable.”

Van de Kemp then asked if there will be a discussion at the next regular scheduled meeting.

Taft responded that there are a lot of conflicting feelings on council about the urgency of the plastics ban and where it stacks up.

“Do we put this first and put other things on the back burner? And what will be the method of enforcement? January seems a bit soon for the next discussion,” he said.

Becker agreed with Taft that there are “definitely differing opinions on the topic, and that council has to guide in a positive way and keep the ball rolling.”

Van de Kemp asked what the purpose of the referendum was. “I mean, it got more votes than the land purchase. How is it not a priority?”

Miller said it was one among many priorities on the list and there is only so much staff time, adding the land purchase was timely.

“I think we are all on board with this; but it is really important we talk to all the retailers,” he said. “If we get a good buy-in this will happen more quickly.”

Juras added that council is constantly reviewing its priorities and has gone back and forth on them a lot, adding that was frustrating when it was seen as such a priority (according to the referendum) yet no one volunteered to be on the committee the DOI tried to form.

Taft added it was a tough topic.

“We did ask, and it was clear. But just because people agree on it does not make it urgent. For us, hiring a new CAO is a bit more urgent. I don’t hold a lot of faith in in general in regulating people to be better. Things like the no idling vehicles and the smoking ban came in after those things were already subsiding naturally.”

Miller reiterated the need to talk to retailers, adding the Home Hardware is already in the process of a move to phase out plastic bags.

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