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Students want Smithers to take on plastic bag problem

After a survey that had 430 responses, Hannah Pow and Jessica Walton laid out a plan.
Jessica Walton and Hannah Pow of Smithers Secondary Youth Action present their case to discourage plastic bag use to Smithers council April 10. Chris Gareau photo

Two Smithers Secondary students spent over 20 minutes at last Tuesday’s Smithers council meeting explaining and answering questions on how to reduce plastic bag use in town.

After going through a survey they put out that had 430 responses, with over 150 people taking the time to write more details, Hannah Pow and Jessica Walton laid out their plan.

Their biggest ask from council was to create a bylaw that would see incremental fee increases for using plastic bags in all stores.

“We hope it can be in all types of shopping within all stores. That’s why we’re coming to you and hoping that the correct pieces of a bylaw can be put together that can ensure that all stores would have to follow it,” said Pow.

The students stressed it was not about banning the bags, but just doing what some grocery stores already do. They also suggested giving advanced warning on the change and having signs up to remind those of us with the best intentions who always forget their reusable bags.

Pow also stressed they found it refreshing that so many business owners on Main Street shared their concern. A solution suggested by the two to the loss of having store brand names on bags was creating a Smithers bag with retailers sharing the space.

Council by policy does not take any action on delegation requests until the next meeting. While there was keen interest from the mayor and councillors, it did not seem writing up a bylaw was in the near future for Smithers.

After Coun. Frank Wray stated he believed plastic waste was up with climate change as one of the biggest environmental risks to the planet, he then warned of unintended consequences. He pointed out, and the students acknowledged, it was not long ago that paper bags were seen as the worse way to carry goods. The question of how much energy goes into reusable bags and the fact many are made from materials that leach into water systems was also allayed by Walton, who said cotton or plant-based bags can be used, and some can be made from old t-shirts.

Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he would help the students sit down with grocery store owners and facilitate a discussion on what can be done voluntarily.