Growing concerns over the impacts single-use-plastics are having on coastal ecosystems have prompted the provincial government to propose reduction strategies and a survey has been launched asking British Columbians for ideas.
“The message from British Columbians is loud and clear—we need to take action to reduce plastic waste, especially single-use items like water bottles and plastic bags that often find their way into our waters, streets and environment,” Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman said through a media release announcing the survey. “We have all seen the striking images of animals and fish being caught up in everyday plastic waste like grocery bags or beer can loops that ensnare these beautiful creatures and it cannot continue. I look forward to hearing from people about how we can all play a part in reducing plastic pollution and plastics use overall.”
Immediately following the announcement, four B.C. mayors, including Tofino’s Josie Osborne, collaborated on a statement welcoming the province’s participation in the battle their communities have been waging.
“Our communities have enthusiastically embraced the reduction of single-use plastic items. We have adopted bylaws or are in the process of doing so to prohibit single-use plastic bags. We’ve done this because single-use plastics and other single-use items present a huge problem and big expense in solid waste management, which is a local government responsibility,” read part of the letter, which was signed by Osborne, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott and Rossland Mayor Kathy Moore.
“We are confident that by working with the Province over the next few months, local governments will be able to offer our experience and expertise that will help the government develop and implement strong policies to reduce unnecessary single-use items across British Columbia.”
Osborne told the Westerly News via email that she was “really pleased” to see the province take a leadership role in the plastic debate.
“This is an issue that people in the Tofino-Ucluelet area clearly care about, and with the number of municipalities stepping up across B.C. to eliminate their use, the Province is taking the right step by asking British Columbians what we think,” she said.
She said she keeps in close contact with her fellow B.C. Mayors around a number of issues and single-use plastics has been a much discussed topic.
“When local governments collaborate on statements or letters, our voice is louder and better heard and it was important to us to encourage further leadership from the Province, so the idea to issue a joint statement came naturally,” she wrote. “It’s our intention to take this even further and work collaboratively on a joint response to the Province amongst the 12-plus municipalities that have enacted bylaws or are part way through the process to ban single-use plastic bags.”
The province’s announcement came in the wake of the B.C. Court of Appeals ruling in favour of the Canadian Plastic Bag Association by declaring a plastic-bag-ban in Victoria invalid because the city had failed to receive permission from B.C.’s ministry of environment before implementing the ban.
Both Tofino and Ucluelet announced similar plastic bag bans, along with bans on plastic straws, in June and Osborne suggested the court’s decision has muddied the waters.
“The recent court decision about Victoria’s bylaw has created uncertainty, and I think a number of local governments will press the ‘pause’ button and wait to see what the outcome of the decision is—whether the City of Victoria seeks leave to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court of Canada as well as what provincial regulation might come into effect that relieve municipalities from each having to implement their own bylaws,” Osborne said. “To me it is clear that provincial regulation is far more efficient and cost-effective for businesses and consumers, as a patchwork of regulations across BC would be frustrating.”
The deadline to fill out the province’s survey is Sept. 18 and Osborne encourages all West Coasters to fill it out before then at cleanbc.gov.bc.ca/plastics.
Tofino and Ucluelet’s unified plastic bag and straw bans were largely credited to the work of Surfrider Pacific Rim and the chapter’s manager Lilly Woodbury is encouraging everyone to fill out the survey.
“In this survey, we highly encourage that residents state the importance of the Government of B.C. banning single-use plastic items and supporting municipalities in their efforts to eliminate and reduce plastic pollution and waste,” Woodbury told the Westerly.
She said the court’s decision to overturn Victoria’s ban based on the lack of involvement from the ministry of environment showed a clear need for the provincial government to take a leadership role.
She added West Coast businesses have been strong supporters of, and eager participants in, plastic-eliminating initiatives.
“A ban on these items is essential for turning off the tap to plastic pollution. However, the plastic pollution problem does not end with plastic bags and straws, this is a beginning step in the greater goal of regulating a greater number of plastic packaging items on the coast which are not recycled, and end up being landfilled or littered,” she said.
“Through business leadership, this mass transition is already happening, which Surfrider is going to continue to campaign for and support.”