Esquimalt eyes plastic bag-free zone

Marlene Lagoa

Marlene Lagoa

Esquimalt is making history in the Capital Region as the first municipality to spearhead a new plastic-bag-free initiative.

A team of five Royal Roads University environmental science students has been working since January to determine the best way to encourage residents and business owners to stop using plastic bags – an estimated 500 billion to a trillion of these are used globally each year.

“(Reducing plastic bag use) is doable because plastic bags only came into existence in the 1970s,” said Marlene Lagoa, Esquimalt’s sustainability co-ordinator. “People found a way around it before.”

B.C. municipalities are not permitted by the province to levy an outright ban, and plastic bags are not allowed in curbside recycling blue boxes in Greater Victoria.

And instead of following other communities that have voluntary bans, Esquimalt council hopes to have an education campaign in place by Dec. 31. So far, the project has cost the township $500 in administration costs.

“If there’s ever a time for ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality, it’s this,” said student Ryan Murphy. “This is not going to be a costly endeavor to anyone. This is really about changing people’s minds.”

To gauge consumption habits, ideas and concerns of consumers, Murphy’s team recently surveyed 355 shoppers on four different occasions at two busy shopping areas in Esquimalt: Esquimalt Plaza and Place Valentine, at the corner of Esquimalt Road and Head Street.

They learned 25 per cent of people said they never take plastic bags from stores. Of those who do, 29 per cent said they forget their reusable bags at home, 15 per cent forget them in their vehicle and 14 per cent use plastic bags for other reasons.

Still, 75 per cent said they support going plastic bag-free.

“It shows us that people are really receptive to using reusable bags,” said Lagoa, but added it also indicates that education is needed.

“It does take consciousness and awareness to build sustainable practices.”

Students will draft recommendations that will go before Esquimalt’s environmental advisory committee and council this fall.

To complete an online questionnaire, please visit www.esquimalt.ca/plasticbagfree.

emccracken@vicnews.com