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Council eyes ban on plastic shopping bags

Pledge to cut number in half by 2010Ray Wangenrwangen@squamishchief.com Plastic shopping bags may soon be a less common sight in Squamish following a motion by council to reduce the use of the bags by 50 per cent over the next three years.

Pledge to cut number in half by 2010Ray Wangenrwangen@squamishchief.com



Plastic shopping bags may soon be a less common sight in Squamish following a motion by council to reduce the use of the bags by 50 per cent over the next three years.

"I think we can do better than that, and maybe we could get rid of them completely in the same period, but this sets a reasonable and achievable goal," said Coun. Raj Kahlon, whose motion to reduce use of the plastic bags passed unanimously.

"This is such a simple way that people can have a real impact on the environment globally," said Tracey Saxby, of Greener Footprints a company specializing in helping communities reduce their environmental impact.

Saxby, who splits her time between living in Squamish and Rossland, B.C., has already helped her other community implement a ban on the bags.

"Canadians use nine billion plastic shopping bags a year," said Saxby. "On average they're only used for five minutes but they take 1,000 years to break down.

"And recycling them is inefficient. One tonne of plastic is worth $55, and it takes 150,000 bags to make up a tonne."

Plastic bags, which have only been in common use for 35 years, have had a massive negative effect on the global environment."Every year plastic bags kill one million seabirds, 100,000 sea mammals, and countless fish," said Saxby.

Thee animals often choke to death after mistaking the bags for jellyfish when they are floating in the water. Some whales have been found with as much as six cubic metres of plastic in their stomach.

Due to their lightweight, the bags are easily blown into the ocean or other environmentally sensitive areas, and are among the most common types of litter.

"Even if they remain in a landfill, they cause problems," said Saxby. "Landfills used to work well before the bags. Glass and metal were recyclable and the other materials could be composted. The bags impede water flow and the movement of bacteria, inhibiting the decomposition of waste."

Material contained within the bags will not decompose either.

Saxby urged council to become the third community in Canada - along with Rossland and Leaf Rapids, Manitoba - to implement a complete ban on the bags. She did not recommend encouraging the use of paper bags or biodegradable plastic bags either, as they do not decompose in landfills and use even more resources to produce than traditional plastic bags.

"The best alternative is cloth bags," said Saxby.

In Rossland, Saxby initiated a program to purchase cloth bags for every household in the community, an option that Squamish councillors agreed to consider for our community.

Valleycliffe Elementary has already organized a similar project. On Monday (April 23), all 200 of the school's students will be given reusable cloth bags to take home with them.

"Educating people on how these bags are used and what happens to them will help get rid of them completely," said principal Sebastian Amenta.

While council did support Kahlon's motion to cut use by 50 per cent by 2010, some councillors felt the move was not enough."I think we could set as a goal a 50 per cent reduction by the summer of next year, with 100 per cent as a target for 2010," said Coun Patricia Heintzman.

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