By Steve Hubrecht

The District of Invermere appears to be heading in the direction of banning single-use plastic checkout bags.

Invermere resident Steph Van de Kemp — along with her husband Aaron and three daughters — lobbied Invermere council about banning plastic bags in the district once again last week, picking up an effort she had begun in 2018 and 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic put it on pause. This time, however, council members were solidly enthusiastic about the idea across the board — a noticeable contrast to the mixed reactions Van de Kemp’s campaign has gotten from council in the past.

“We’ve done this before,” Van de Kemp said during the Tuesday, Jun. 14 meeting, referencing her last appearance before council, back in December 2019. “But a lot has changed.” She noted that since then, both the federal government and the provincial government have made announcements about plastic bag bans, that the number of B.C. municipalities with local bans in place or in process has grown to 34, and that even Walmart has stopped using single use plastic bags.

“We are seeing this movement progressing,” said Van de Kemp, adding, however, that “it’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of the plastic problem.” She pointed out that plastics are now in every level of the global ecosystem, are in fact part of the geologic fossil record, are literally in our food, and have become a part of human physiology.

Van de Kemp referenced some doubts council had voiced previously, back in 2019, about a plastic bag ban in Invermere — that there may be legal challenges, and that it may not be easy to enforce such a ban — and noted that other B.C. municipalities that have implemented such bans have managed to navigate those potential hurdles.

“I see (banning) plastics as lowing hanging fruit…It can be done,” said Van de Kemp, adding that in 2018 a District of Invermere opinion poll (held in conjunction with the municipal election) showed more than 70 per cent of local residents in favour of a plastic bag ban, and a 2019 petition by Invermere residents in favour of plastic bag ban garnered 1,073 signatures.

“Your constituents have spoken. The opinion poll, although not binding, was very clear,” said Van de Kemp.

She outlined that multiple local businesses, both large and small, have already taken action and stopped their use of plastic bags, but noted that others have not. That’s why a bylaw banning plastic bags is needed, said Van de Kemp.

“It’s attainable. I agree with you. I think it’s time, I think we’re there. There’s enough examples (of other B.C. communities with plastic bag bans) out there. I don’t know why we’re not going ahead with it,” said Councillor Greg Anderson. He added that the district is currently in the process of hiring an environmental planner, and that once somebody has filled the position, one of the first tasks for the job could be to create a draft plastic bag ban bylaw for council to review.

“It’s time to move forward. It needs to be put on a priority list,” said Invermere Mayor Al Miller, adding the environmental planner, once hired,  could work out the details of a plastic bag ban ahead of time, even before it officially makes a strategic priority list, so that as soon as it is on list, action can be taken swiftly.

Van de Kemp received sustained applause from the large public audience (most of who were attending the meeting for a different issue) as she sat down at the end of the discussion.