When Margaret McCullough looks at Victoria, she envisions a city free of plastic bags.
Growing up in the U.K., McCullough made a committment early to not use single-use plastic bags and instead opted to carry reusable bags whenever she went shopping for various items. It’s a commitment she continued when she came to Canada in 1979. The effect plastic bags can have on the envrionment is an issue she has been aware of for years, but one McCullough said is a problem many are still unaware of.
“They don’t realize the enormity of the problem. A lot of people look at it and think it’s a little problem, but the problem is huge because these bags not only kill animals directly, they break down into tiny pieces and they are entering the food chain,” she said.
“You can’t see it because they’re tiny little pieces and it looks like there’s nothing out there … but the ocean here is full of tiny pieces, which, in some ways, are more dangerous than the big pieces.”
The Glenlyon Norfolk teacher along with three of her students in Grades 8 and 9, are on a mission to raise awareness of the envrionmental impacts that plastic bags are having on oceans.
For the past few years students have been lobbying the City of Victoria to stop the use of plastic bags. Now, their efforts are slowly coming to fruition as city council recently approved a set of recommendations regarding single-use plastic bags, including coming to a decision about a potential ban or levy in October.
“I want to make sure we do it with the community, not to the community,” said Mayor Lisa Helps during a meeting Thursday, noting cities such as San Francisco and Oakland have already implemented a levy on reusable bags. “Before 1950, we didn’t use plastic bags and we survived very well as a species, as an economy and as an ecosystem. If we can’t live without something that’s only been around for 70 years, then we have a real imagination problem.”
The recommendations include a six-month consultation period with stakeholder groups and volunteers to engage the community on the affects of plastic bag waste and the benefits of reusable bags, working with stakeholders to promote a set of voluntary commitments and pledges to reduce retail bag use; and the development of a design competition for a City of Victoria reusable retail bag.
Staff are to report back in October, during which time council hopes to make a decision on the matter. For some councillors, a ban couldn’t come soon enough. Ben Isitt said council will never get unanimity from the community on the issue, but should show leadership in the region in order to move forward.
But McCullough believes getting rid of plastic bags isn’t going to happen over night, and a consultation period with businesses and educating the public is a necessary step towards implementing a city-wide ban or levy.
“When they (the public) know the enormity of the problem, the significance and the consequences of what they’re doing, people usually do the right thing,” she said. “People are afraid of change, but if in the end, it’s done right, they go along with the right thing.”
Council also hopes to work with the Capital Regional District to draft a model bylaw to phase out single-use plastic bags that could be adopted by other municipalities.