Steph Van de Kemp was surfing in Indonesia in what would have been a paradise had the water not been so polluted.
“You’d run your hand through the water and it would come up with a plastic bag on it,” she said. “I’ve seen plastic firsthand being a surfer.”
In last October’s municipal election, Ms. Van de Kemp was glad to see that a majority of Invermere residents (69 per cent) were in favour of banning plastic bags in town. But a year later, she’s puzzled about why the ban hasn’t yet come into effect.
While she appreciates that council has had other priorities, she said that the proliferation of plastic waste is “an emergency,” that residents have been clear that they want to get rid of bags and that now is the time to act.
“I think plastic pollution is one of the greatest challenges we face. We need a comprehensive single-use plastic strategy, and banning plastic bags is a great way to start,” she said.
Council attempted to start a committee with residents and representatives from the business community to decide exactly what to do with plastic bags, but no one stepped forward.
“We’ve had a call for committee members and then we had no response so that’s what prompted us to lower that on the priority list,” said councillor Ute Juras.
Ms. Van de Kemp feels that the District of Invermere (DOI) didn’t do enough to let people know they were looking for volunteers. And even if they had, she said a committee seems “redundant” since voters have already given council a mandate to ban plastic bags.
“People want action. Stop talking about it, and let’s actually just do it,” she said.
Councillor Kayja Becker doesn’t think a committee is necessary either and that there are many other places in the community where volunteers are needed.
“My face is on the petition circulating and my name is on the petition,” she said. “I’m happy to see that individuals do still care.”
But she said that banning plastic bags isn’t her top priority as a council member either.
“Do we really have to make it a rule?” she asked.
Councillor Gerry Taft said the bag ban was: “on the list to discuss, but when we looked at things like the Athalmer land purchase and some of the other projects that we are focused on, although there was a fairly strong majority in the opinion poll, you know, when we stacked it up to all the other issues that we’re dealing with, it just didn’t come as the most urgent.”
He said dealing with plastic bags would also be complicated because the city of Victoria lost a court case over plastic bags, because the federal government is considering regulating bags and because shops at the Crossroads would be able to continue handing out bags as usual even if everyone down the hill complied with the ban.
“We thought this makes sense to kind of pause and wait a bit and see how the issue plays out,” he said.
Mayor Al Miller, who owns Home Hardware, said his store is looking for solutions for the bag situation.
“I will not charge for bags as that goes against my commitment to deliver great service. If people are shopping in our store, I’m going to make sure they get their products home safely. We have considered paper bags as they are recycled easily now. We also sell reusable bags as well,” he said.
While he feels that “certainly plastic is top of mind and we need to deal with it, that’s for sure,” he said council isn’t taking an active role on banning bags but intends to support plastic initiatives that may come from the federal or provincial governments.
Ms. Van de Kemp isn’t prepared to wait on other levels of government. Through her petition, which she intends to present to the DOI at the December 10th council meeting, she hopes to convince the DOI and the Regional District of East Kootenay to ban single-use plastic bags and wishes that “the whole wide world” would follow suit.
It’s not hard to ban plastic bags, she said, suggesting that the change could be as simple as having shops sell paper bags at the till if people forget their reusable bags.
Paper bags are “a great solution to make sure visitors, tourists – and those of us who are sometimes forgetful – have an option at the checkout,” she said.
Her petition is online at: https://www.change.org/t/plastic-bag-en-ca.