Why Focus on Plastic Bags

  • Plastic bags are just one of many single-use items that are stockpiling in landfills worldwide. What about disposable coffee mugs, plastic cutlery, straws, pop bottles…. the list goes on. AWARE sees plastic bags as a starting point. If we use a reusable bag for shopping maybe we will soon all use cloth bags for our produce, reusable mugs or ask for no straw. Plastic bags can act as a first step to a culture change, not just for Whistler residents but also for our guests who we can seek to inspire through our actions.
  • Plastic recycling is challenging. Glass and metals are melted down so impurities float to the top and form a scum layer, which can be removed. Plastic recycling relies on chemical processes that are hugely impacted by contamination. If plastics aren’t correctly sorted and clean when recycled then the integrity of the end product is jeopardized. There are few municipalities who still accept plastic film because it is frequently contaminated and much harder to clean through industrial processes then rigid plastic containers, such as produce clamshells or milk cartons.
  • Recently there has been more confusion created as bags are labeled as biodegradable or compostable. Compostable bags are normally made of a plant based product such as corn starch, which when put into the environment will eventually break down to organic compounds. Biodegradable bags also break down but they never become organic matter they just continue to exist as tiny pieces of plastic so minuscule the naked eye cannot see them. These tiny pieces of plastic do not break down and are so small that we don’t notice them enter our on and off shore food cycles. Biodegradable and compostable bags are not recyclable and act as a contaminant if they enter the plastics recycling. It becomes difficult for consumers to identify which category their bag falls into but at the commercial scale it becomes economically non-feasible or physically impossible to separate, identify and process.
  • On average a reusable bag that is used more than 11 times has a lower impact than if plastic bags were used[1] and so with this readily available alternative all that remains is for us to inspire individuals to make the change.
  • A recent shoreline clean-up completed by students from Spring Creek School found plastic bags to be the second most polluting item around Whistler’s lakes, surpassed only by cigarette butts.

 

The Scope to the Issue:

  • 55 million bags are used per week in Canada;
  • Canada’s population is just under 34 million people;
  • This equates to 1.6 bags per person/week or 84 bags per person/yr;
  • This can be used to calculate the average annual bag consumption in Whistler;
    • 9,595ppl full time permanent residents = 805,980 bags/yr
    • 28,289ppl daily residents (including temporary workers)  = 2,376,276 bags/yr
  • Additionally we need to consider the bags used by our annual 2.14 million resort guests.

 

Work Completed to Date:

2007

AWARE Public Survey of 100 people (76% in support of a plastic bag free Whistler),

1,500 Reusable Bags given out in community as part of education campaign

2010

AWARE Public Survey of 250 people (86% in support of a plastic bag free Whistler)

2011

RMOW Public Perceptions Survey (over 600 respondents) (delivered by AWARE)

2012

RMOW Business Perceptions Survey (with input from AWARE)

Ongoing since 2007

AWARE Collaboration with Whistler Businesses and Grocery Alliance

Presentations to council revisiting plastic bag agenda and providing updates (five presentations overall)

AWARE outreach activities to explore Whistler Bag scheme and understand operational as well as societal and economic threats and opportunities.

Maintaining focus on this issue through engagement with the community.

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[1] This is an industry average as the exact number of usages required to offset the use of plastic bags varies dependent on the material from which the reusable bag is made, where it was produced, etc.