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Surfrider Pacific Rim pushes for plastic water bottle ban in Tofino - Ucluelet

“Tofino and Ucluelet have been on the cutting edge of banning single-use plastics”
Debris artist Pete Clarkson stands next to his, ‘Classic Plastic’ art installation piece that challenges viewers to reconsider their plastic bottle use outside Gaia Grocery in Tofino. (Photo courtesy of Surfrider Pacific Rim)

The West Coast’s district offices are preparing to fight for their right to ban plastic water bottles.

Tofino and Ucluelet have led the way in lobbying the province to allow municipalities to ban plastic bags, straws and styrofoam take-out containers and are looking to add another pollutant to the prohibition pile.

The current push stems from Surfrider Pacific Rim’s lobbying efforts through its Take Back the Tap campaign. The foundation is currently pushing for a ban on single-use plastic water bottles under one-litre.

Following a delegation from Surfrider on August 22, Tofino’s municipal council directed their staff to report back on the best route to take on lobbying the province to allow for a plastic-bottle ban.

“Tofino and Ucluelet have been on the cutting edge of banning single-use plastics, like utensils and styrofoam takeout containers and I think certainly our communities have pushed for that,” Tofino mayor Dan Law told the Westerly News. “Going forward, the more communities like Tofino and Ucluelet that get behind the push for increased single use plastics bans, the better.”

West Coast communities fought hard to lobby for current provincial legislation that allows for specific plastics to be banned, like cutlery, bags and straws.

“It allows municipalities to ban items on the list, the issue with plastic bottles right now is that they’re not on the list, but clearly plastic bottles are one of the most prolific ocean plastics, if not the most prolific ocean plastic, so it makes sense that Tofino, Ucluelet and other communities would like to ban single use plastic water bottles specifically,” Law said.

“We have to find a route forward and that may include lobbying the province and it may include drumming up support from other municipalities and organizations that would like to see plastic water bottles and perhaps other plastic beverage bottles banned.”

Chapter Coordinator Sophie Peters presented to Tofino’s municipal council on August 22, calling for plastic water bottles, 1-litre and under, to be added to the district’s banned plastics list.

Peters told the Westerly News that Surfrider has collected over 50,000 water bottles from local coastlines during frequent volunteer cleanups.

“We really see those pesky 0.5 litre water bottles everywhere,” she said. “They’re the ones that we see on the beaches, on the ground and on the sides of the road. Ultimately, we still want to push forward with encouraging everybody to use their reusable water bottles but what we’re asking for does not restrict all plastic water bottles. It would still allow for the 1.5 litre size and the 4 litre size.”

She added that plastic bottles contain a myriad of harmful environmental concerns and have become so prevalent that they are being embedded into the food chain.

In its push to do away with plastic water bottles, Surfrider Pacific Rim launched its Take Back the Tap campaign in 2018 and has connected with over 140 local businesses since, with a vast majority signing on in support of the campaign and signing the Take Back the Tap pledge.

“We’ve seen real growth in this campaign and up to this point an overwhelming support from the communities,” Peters said.

She added that Surfrider is not looking to ban larger plastic water bottles, but will continue promoting the use of reusable water bottles.

“Over the years, it’s really been building momentum. Water has more sensitivity around it which is why we did a lot of groundwork and took a lot of time to really hear everyone’s feedback,” she said.

She suggested Tofino and Ucluelet could be the first communities in the province to ban single-use plastic water bottles, noting they were among the first to ban plastic cutlery and straws.

Surfrider made a similar pitch to Ucluelet’s municipal council on World’s Ocean Day, June 8.

“The hope in this is for Tofino and Ucluelet to continue to be one of the frontrunners and leaders in eliminating plastics and then that creating a ripple effect so hopefully we start to see other communities doing the same,” she said.

“I think it’s so important when it’s seen at the municipal level because it really emphasizes that these changes can be implemented bottom up, instead of having to happen top-down,” she said. “With Tofino and Ucluelet being very prompt on their actions to eliminate single use plastics, we’ve seen other communities pushing forward and doing the same…It really starts that spark and once other communities see Tofino or Ucluelet pass that ban on water bottles, they’ll start doing it too and once enough communities are doing that, it gets recognized provincially and federally as well.”

She added she was not surprised by both towns’ support of the campaign.

“We’ve had a really great relationship with the districts of Tofino and Ucluelet and collaboratively we’ve really built this amazing momentum around plastics, even starting at a time when it was less in people’s awareness. Here we are, fast forward to 2023, it’s much, much more in people’s awareness, so it’s almost easier to keep that momentum going,” she said.

Law said West Coast communities continue to be at the forefront of plastics bans because of their direct connection to the ocean.

“Tofino and Ucluelet both have wonderful, pristine beaches. We’re maritime communities, the ocean is part of our collective identity and we are on the front edge, we see the plastics, we see the garbage piling up on our beautiful beaches so we’re right on the frontline of ocean plastic pollution…We know where it’s coming from, we can see it and we don’t like it,” he said. “Our communities pride themselves on our pristine natural environments, especially the ocean…The ocean is part of our life.”

He added that he is not anticipating pushback from the local business community.

“Almost all the local businesses already in Tofino and Ucluelet are onboard with Take Back the Tap,” he said. “I’m so proud of our local organizations like Surfrider who take these projects on. I think we’re all so much better for it.”

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Andrew Bailey

About the Author: Andrew Bailey

I arrived at the Westerly News as a reporter and photographer in January 2012.
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