One of the biggest impediments to Whistler’s plans to reduce or eliminate plastic bag use in the resort are the millions of visitors that come through the resort each year. Guests are unlikely to bring their own reusable shopping bags with them, and there are concerns guests will be offended by having to pay extra for bags.
The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) has been working on a solution to the issue, which they presented at Whistler Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting last week (Dec. 17).
AWARE is putting the final touches on a pilot project with the Crystal Lodge they want to put in place for summer of 2014. Each room will have two reusable bags, plus information on the reusable bag program. Guests are welcome to use the bags for free and they will be cleaned by the hotel’s laundry — or they can take them home with them for a fee of $10 added to their bill.
“We wanted to deliver a pilot project (specific to visitors) that demonstrates how a positive experience (with reusable bags) can leave a positive impression on Whistler visitors, while also engaging them to change personal habits to benefit the environment,” AWARE executive director Claire Ruddy explained to council.
The bags would be branded to Whistler in a visually appealing way, and the design could potentially be changed each year for regular visitors to collect. Reusable shopping bags are now ahead of tea towels on the list of travel collectibles, Ruddy said.
Crystal Lodge has committed resources to the pilot, which could eventually be expanded to include other hotels if it’s successful.
The cost of the pilot is roughly $25,000, with AWARE applying for a $12,475 grant from the American Friends of Whistler, $3,000 in cash from the organization and another $9,625 in in-kind contributions, including the costs to Crystal Lodge for involving their housekeeping staff and laundry.
Partners in the program also include the Spring Creek Spirit Team and Whistler Centre for Sustainability.
Council also received an update, as requested, on plastic bag policy. Joe Paul, general manager of infrastructure services, said it was still too early to tell if efforts that got underway this summer are working. However, there is some good news. “In stores that are primarily servicing visitors, there was no real reduction (in bag use) in the third quarter, but for stores serving residents… they used about 9.5 per cent fewer bags, when taking into account sales and bag volumes,” he said.
Paul said they will have more information when fourth quarter numbers are available.
Given that the municipality doesn’t have the power to ban plastic bags or institute a bag fee, Paul said that any program has to be voluntary on the part of the grocery stores.
The big priority for 2014 will be to get stores to stop using biodegradable bags, which are not as beneficial as they were expected to be and create issues by contaminating plastic recycling — a program that’s getting a boost with the province unrolling its Multi Material BC recycling program in the spring.
There will be a cost to switching from biodegradable bags to recyclable bags, but Nesters Market manager Bruce Stewart said the costs will likely come down in time.
“Degradable has been the norm for a while so it’s cheaper,” he said.
Sue Adams, who owns and operates The Grocery Store, said, “I think a great step is moving to another product that is recyclable.
“We used to use (plastic recyclable) bags in the olden days, then the industry switched to the degradable bags thinking (we) were doing a good thing at that time. Now we know differently, and that in fact it screws up our recycling. I think we’re moving towards a better place for everyone and as an industry we can support that.”