A City of Fernie bylaw to ban single-use plastic bags is back on the to-do list for city staff.
Councillors voted unanimously to support the prioritization of a draft bylaw to limit the sale of plastic bags at the Feb. 28 council meeting.
Fernie councillors had originally indicated support for banning single-use plastic bags back in 2019, but at the time chose to wait for a provincial decision that never came.
Anti-plastics activist Sylvia Ayers brought the issue back to attention at a Feb. 22 meeting, making an impassioned presentation to council about how much plastic was used in the community, and what powers have been delegated to municipal governments in the years since councillors had originally indicated support for the idea. In 2021, the provincial government gave local governments the power to write and implement their own bans on single-use plastics, thereby downloading responsibility to municipal politicians.
Her message was heard, and at the Feb. 28 meeting councillor Yvonne Prest brought forward a motion to prioritise the creation of a bylaw to ban single-use plastics, which was “a major step forward,” said Ayers.
“I’m super excited, I have complete faith in council following through in their commitment.”
In her motion, Prest said that if the province wasn’t going to take the lead, the City of Fernie had to, citing advocacy from local high school students, community openness to such a ban, and support for the move by Tourism Fernie and the Fernie Chamber of Commerce.
“It is time to implement a new bylaw and create one small positive change for these students’ futures,” she wrote.
Single-use plastic bags are not going anywhere for a while yet, however. Currently the city has a backlog of bylaws to get through, and provincial regulations around the adoption of municipal-level bans require a six-month lag between bylaw adoption and implementation. A timeline on when a new bylaw would be created and adopted isn’t known.
Other municipalities in the province which have taken advantage of the provinces delegation of powers and adopted bans on single-use plastic include nearby Rossland, as well as the tourism-focused communities of Tofino and Ucluelet. Other municipalities are major cities like Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria.
Ayers said the material available on the damage caused by too much plastic going into the environment was ‘overwhelming’.
“There’s been so much more information since 2018 on how much plastic there is out there. It isn’t about plastic per say, it’s about the massive quantities of plastic and the overwhelming exponential growth.” According to a study from 2018, at least 80,000 single-use plastic bags are distributed in Fernie every month.
Timing has proven to be fortuitous – at the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly which was held over Feb. 28 to Mar. 2, representatives from 175 countries agreed to develop a legally binding treaty on plastics by 2024.
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