By Steve Hubrecht

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Invermere residents pushed hard for a municipal ban in the district on single-use plastics for a couple of years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and then again after the pandemic.

In June 2022, the efforts appeared to have paid off. Local resident Steph Van de Kemp appeared before Invermere council, pressing them on the ban, and pointing out that more than 1,000 signatures were gathered on a petition asking council to ban single-use plastics in the district. Invermere council members of the time voiced their agreement with Van de Kemp, and Invermere Mayor Al Miller said, “It’s time to move forward. It needs to be put on a priority list.”

Later that year, the District of Invermere hired environmental planner Anne-Sophie Corriveau, who began working on the bylaw. In February 2023 Corriveau was at an Invermere council meeting seeking guidance on how broad to make the bylaw — should it cover just plastic bags or should it cover a broader range of single-use plastics (such as drinking straws, takeout containers and styrofoam)? Most council members voiced opinions in favour of banning a broader range of single-use plastics. Councillor Kayja Becker was acting as mayor at the meeting (in the absence of Miller) and said, “We need to get it going as a municipality as quickly as possible. We need to do the right thing.”

But Corriveau went on maternity leave a few months later, and has since moved to Smithers, and in the ensuing months the idea of a single-use plastic ban has fallen by the wayside.

“We haven’t worked on it of late,” conceded Invermere Mayor Al Miller. “We did initially push forward on it, but now it is coming up at higher levels.”

Miller’s comment was in reference to the federal government’s vow to ban the sale of single- use plastics (including checkout bags, straws, and takeout containers) this December. That, he outlined, makes any Invermere single-use plastic ban bylaw a moot point.

He also pointed out that district staff have been tied up with urgent infrastructure issues, such as badly needed water and sewer upgrades.

“Those infrastructure issues had to take priority. It was dire,” said Miller. 

He did note that many businesses in Invermere and elsewhere in the valley have already done away with much of their single-use plastics.

“People seem to want to do the right thing on their own, and to me that’s great,” he said.

Still, some local residents involved in the push to ban or reduce single-use plastic were disheartened that the would-be bylaw never came to be.

The Pioneer sought comment from Van de Kemp but was unable to reach her prior to press deadline. But it was able to talk with two David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) students — Virginia Denchuck and Anika Rievaj — who did a capstone project last spring addressing single-use plastics in Invermere. 

The pair conducted a survey of downtown businesses to find out what they knew about single-use plastic regulations, whether those businesses were prepared for such regulations (either federal or a potential municipal bylaw), and if not, what they needed help with.

Only 20 to 25 of Invermere’s downtown businesses ended up responding to the survey, explained Virginia, but of those that did respond “a lot of them did not know much about the issue at all.”

In fact, “a lot of them asked us for more information,” added Anika.

“Many of them thought it was a good idea, but didn’t know how to go about doing anything about it,” said Virginia. She cited plastic straws as an example. “They were worried because the quality of plastic straws is sometimes better than paper straws, but they didn’t know what else to replace the plastic straws with except for paper straws.”

Anika and Virginia were surprised the district did not end up following through on a municipal single-use plastic ban bylaw, given that 20 other communities in B.C. have already done so.

“It is disappointing they didn’t go ahead with it. It is an issue that’s been discussed in the valley for years,” said Virginia. 

“I don’t see any benefit in not doing it. It would have shown the community that council is on board with dealing with plastics,” said Anika.

Do Anika and Virginia worry that the federal government may end up not fully implementing its single-use plastics sale ban this December, and that with no municipal bylaw in place, the single-use plastic situation in Invermere could remain the same?

“I have been wondering that. I do have that worry. But I think it would be pretty bold of the federal government to not go through with it now, weeks away,” said Virginia.

Anika shared Virginia’s opinions, but noted that if it were to be the case that the federal regulations get delayed, “it could be hard to get rolling again (for a single-use plastics ban). There was a lot of public momentum on it.”