The Town of Qualicum Beach has taken a small but significant step in trying to reduce single-use plastic bags in the community.
At its regular meeting, March 19, council passed first reading of a bylaw that would eventually ban the sale or provision of single-use plastic bags in Qualicum Beach.
The vote was 4-1 in favour of the motion, with Coun. Bill Luchtmeijer the only councillor opposing it. Luchtmeijer said he feels the bylaw does not do enough to curtail the use of not ony plastic bags, but of other plastics as well.
“Firstly, a single-use plastic ban is not the way to go,” said Luchtmeijer. “As a council, if we’re really serious about eliminating single-use plastic bags or single-use plastics, we should incorporate it into our solid waste strategy and deal with it at the municipal level rather than put the onus, first of all, on some of the businesses that use them and, more importantly, the general public.”
Luchtmeijer believes it is not going to make a big difference as the proposed bylaw targets only plastic bags.
“The only way we can make a difference if we as a municipality, we’re going to take this bull by the horns and we are going to solve single-use plastic and it can’t be just plastic bags,” Luchtmeijer explained. “It can be Saran-wrap. It can be a whole number of plastic items that we don’t want to see floating in the ocean or in our landfills.”
As a way to ensure compliance, Luchtmeijer suggested the town, in its garbage collection, have a separate bin or a hanger on the side of the bin for single-use plastics.
Coun. Neil Horner said he agrees with Luchtmeijer and supported his suggestion.
“It is a very good next step following this one,” said Horner.
Mayor Teunis Westbroek said that he understands the concern that it is more than just the plastic bag issue. But he pointed out that the town has to start somewhere.
“We have to draw awareness to the problems of plastics in the ocean,” said Westbroek. “I think this was a way for us to present that. It is something that we all could do something about.”
Coun. Anne Skipsey also said she believes it is a step in the right direction. “Who knows if plastic straws would be next or whatever,” said Skipsey.
Luchtmeijer pointed out that in eliminating plastic bags, people are going to look for alternatives and use durable bags that he believes would include those made of synthetic fibres.
“So basically, we’re taking the same plastics that we were using for single-use bags and putting them into the environment in a different form,” said Luchtmeijer. “We are not curtailing the development and manufacturing of that type of plastic. I think, again, it’s cosmetics.”
The town conducted an online survey on the issue and, as of March 9, it had 246 respondents, 15 of whom were identified as businesse owners. Sixty-five percent support a ban on plastic bags with 26 per cent opposing it. As well, 51 per cent support the town imposing a fee on plastic bags.
At the public open house sessions held Feb. 15, the town received feedback from participants who had the opportunity to view informational displays and videos. Staff indicated that majority of the visitors favoured the ban. Out of the 17 written responses the town received, 13 were in support and the remainder expressed concerns that include increase stress on bylaw enforcement, negative impact on tourism, the high cost of paper bags and unattractive and poorly designed reusable bags.
“We need to make some changes if we’re going to survive until the next century, we really do,” Horner said. “This is one small one. It’s a baby step and it’s important to take those baby steps instead of trying to do everything at once.”
Earlier this year, Victoria gave final reading to its bylaw that prohibits sale of plastic bags and requires businesses to charge a fee for the provision of paper or reusable bags. However, the adoption of the bylaw was challenged by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association, which stated that Victoria does not have the authority to force a business to charge a fee for paper and reusable bags.
In light of this claim, Qualicum Beach council also voted to have the town’s legal counsel review its bylaw proposal.