Ucluelet Co-op members Kathleen Holland, Gord Dunsmore, Shaun Holtz and Richard Raschke are all in favour when it comes to banning plastic bags at their local grocery store.

Plastic bags nixed at Ucluelet Co-op

“It’s not like we are eliminating customer choices, but we are eliminating plastics.”

Ucluelet Co-op is phasing out single-use plastic grocery bags.

General Manager Laurie Gehrke says that by the end of June 2017, plastic bags will be eliminated from the store.

“We are not re-ordering plastic grocery bags for the tills. Once we receive the cloth bags, we’re done. We’re not doing them anymore,” she said.

“I hope the rest of the businesses in the town take a look at what we are doing and jump on that bandwagon.”

As alternatives, the Co-op will provide free cardboard boxes, paper bags for 10 cents or customers can purchase a reuseable cloth bag for one dollar. Proceeds from the sale of cloth bags will be donated back into the community.

Surfrider Pacific Rim Foundation has also set-up a cloth bag exchange box in the front entrance of the store. Customers can drop-off clean cloth bags or take one to use for their groceries.

“It’s not like we are eliminating customer choices, but we are eliminating plastic,” says Gehrke.

“It’s really important to me that the environment be sustained. I have grandkids and I’d like them to be able to come here 50 years from now and enjoy it as much as I do today and the only why that is going to happen is by taking a stand and actually doing something about what is going on in the world. That is our contribution as a Co-op.”

She said the move was driven by Co-op members, and is candidly supported by the board of directors.

Ucluelet Co-op board chair, Gord Dunsmore, said the change is needed.

“It’s the 21st century and it’s the way of the world. We have to look after what we’ve got or eventually it will go. It will also come back to us through our food source if we don’t start somewhere,” Dunsmore said.

Gehrke estimates the new ban will eliminate 75,000 plastic bags from the local waste stream within the first year.

“I know the trickle effect will be that there will be less plastics going into the ocean around here. With our influx of tourists, I know this will make a huge difference this summer with the amount of plastic that is here,” she said.

The store has also replaced plastic straws at the take-out deli with paper ones. Small plastic bags for putting meat in or keeping chemical products separate from other groceries will still be provided. Gehrke says they are currently sourcing biodegradable and mesh bags for produce.

Surfrider Pacific Rim chair, Michelle Hall, thinks the community is ready for the change.

“So many of us already have reusable bags, it’s just remembering the bags that seems to be a challenge,” Hall wrote in an email to the Westerly News.

“So there you go. It’s time to rip the band aid off and just get rid of plastic bags entirely. This will be the nudge needed to help remember. This is not something new. It’s happening all over the world, and it’s time Pacific Rim started to lead the way. We can inspire the thousands of visitors that come to visit this area, and it will make sense,” Hall said. “You are coming to visit west coast paradise, let’s take care of it with simple small actions everyone can be involved in.

In addition to phasing out single-use plastic bags, the Ucluelet Co-op is committed to recycling all plastic wrap from palettes and cardboard packaging. Four cigarette butt canisters have also been installed for customer and staff use.

“We’re trying to reduce the amount of garbage that gets dropped into our environment here on a daily basis. We do a lot here,” says Gehrke.

“We’re a key location in town. We have the ability to lead the charge so to speak because everyone comes here. Everyone will see what we are doing and maybe it will plant a few seeds along the way.”

She said anyone with questions or concerns can feel free to contact the office by calling 250-726-4231 extension 223 or email: uclgm@ukeecable.net.