When it comes to the issue of plastic bags in our society, the debate should move away from the question of whether or not to ban them.
That debate misses the point. This is about changing behaviour. Reducing this issue down to a regulation versus education debate almost always ends in a choice to take the latter route. Government shouldn’t try to manage every aspect of our lives, right?
But let’s switch the dialogue to try and achieve a different goal. In other words, what will it actually take to change people’s behaviour?
There is no debating that single use plastic bags are an environmental nightmare. They are the ecological tumbleweeds of a consumer society. But it is our consumption patterns that make it difficult to kick the habit of putting recently bought goods in convenient single use plastic bags.
We’ve all done it. Well intentioned as we are, with piles of our own reusable bags sitting silently by, watching us as we hurry out the door forgetting them behind.
Any educational efforts so far have seen meagre results in Whistler with a one per cent drop in bag usage in the last four years. The reason is that changing behaviour takes more than marketing campaigns and educational efforts. Changing behaviour takes conditioning and nothing does that better than inconvenience. That may mean eliminating plastic bags as an option or hitting consumers in the pocket book.
The Community Charter doesn’t give the RMOW authority to ban the use of plastic bags outright, but does allow for municipalities to regulate the type of shopping bags that retail businesses can distribute.
Coun. Jack Crompton had the right idea when he put forward a decisive motion that would regulate the usage of non-reusable bags in the resort. It was, however, a recommendation from administration that more time, consultations and another report be prepared with regulation options that saw that motion retracted.
We respect the need to consult and get together with stakeholders to make everyone feel included in the process. But another report only delays settling this issue once and for all. Will another report by administration reveal anything new on this issue, anything every other municipality that has considered this issue hasn’t thought of?
Probably not. Preferably the report this week from administration would have included regulatory options.
Regardless, it is clear that council has the will and legislative chutzpah to put in place legislation that makes people change their plastic bag behaviours once and for all. With an estimated four million bags used annually in the resort they know somethimg has to be done — now they just need a plan on how to do it.
Finally, with respect to the issue of inconveniencing tourists, we gasp to even suggest it is possible, there is an easy solution. Whistler needs its own bag. That bag would be affordable, well designed and branded to represent this community and can be a souvenir for any visitor. As a bonus, any profits could go towards local environmental efforts in the community.