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Victoria council backs ban on single-use plastic bags, staff to study

The days of plastic bags in Victoria could be numbered. Victoria councillors Thursday took the first steps in developing a bylaw that would ban retailers from providing single-use plastic bags.
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Reusable grocery bags have grown in popularity as retailers such as Thrifty Foods have abandoned the single-use plastic bag.

The days of plastic bags in Victoria could be numbered.

Victoria councillors Thursday took the first steps in developing a bylaw that would ban retailers from providing single-use plastic bags.

Several councillors said they support the proposal provided the public is properly consulted and the city works in concert with retailers so that the change, if implemented, is even-handed.

“Some of the retailers I’ve spoken to said they are very supportive but they would only do it if everybody else is doing it,” said Coun. Pam Madoff, noting that the idea wasn’t generated by city hall but through a grassroots community campaign.

“It’s something I find really exciting. I don’t see this as a really onerous initiative,” she said.

It’s time to move away from the idea “you need to leave a store with a piece of garbage,” said Coun. Ben Isitt, who with Coun. Jeremy Loveday proposed drafting a bylaw banning the bags and having Mayor Lisa Helps write to municipalities and electoral areas in the Capital Regional District urging them to follow suit.

“A plastic bag is a piece of garbage and it’s a very environmentally destructive piece of garbage,” Isitt said.

“We don’t need to have those pieces of garbage in our retail environment any longer.”

The initiative is being promoted by the Vancouver Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental advocacy group with a coastal focus. Surfrider says that on a single Coastal Cleanup Day in 2012, more than one million plastic bags were picked up and that the bags consistently make the top-10 list of items collected during beach cleanups.

The public has clearly indicated that there’s concern about waterways being polluted by the discarded single-use bags, Isitt said.

“A lot of members of the public stridently insist that they are not single-use bags. [They say]: ‘I use them for dog excrement or for my garbage.’ So maybe that turns it from a single-use bag to a double-use bag,” he said.

“But that misses the point that our local retail environment and packaging environment is basically encouraging residents to wrap either dog poo or their household waste in a product that is completely unsustainable.”

Coun. Geoff Young said that so far councillors have mostly heard from people on one side of the issue. He said it will be hard to get reaction from people who are using the bags until they can’t get them.

“They won’t be told: ‘No bag.’ What they’ll be told is: ‘You have to buy a bag.’ As one of the emails we got [said], this will be a tax on the unprepared,” Young said.

Councillors agreed to forward the proposal to city staff for an estimate of the impact of the initiative on staff workloads.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com