A trio of Seaquam Secondary students are leading the charge on getting single-use plastic bags banned in Delta.
Grade 11 students Caroll Gao, Rayne Inkster and Ashley Meagher chose to tackle the issue as part of a year-long project for their civics class, and just this week their efforts drew the attention of Delta city council.
The students looked at the environmental impact of plastic bags, and each of them focused their research on a different alternative to plastic bags: paper bags (Inkster), biodegradable/compostable bags (Meagher) and reusable cloth bags (Gao), with unexpected results.
“We see a lot of cities, or just individual stores even, straying away from plastic bags and using paper bags or promoting cloth bags, those types of things, and I think what was the most surprising in our research … was how some of the alternatives aren’t actually better for the environment, especially paper bags because that’s such a common one nowadays,” Gao said. “Paper bags actually turn out to be worse for the environment than plastic bags, which was super polarizing for us.”
Paper bags, Inkster explained, take a lot of energy and material to create and release a lot of CO2, especially while they’re being made.
“Seventy times more air pollution was found to be made when making paper bags than with the plastic bags, and they also are worse for the environment when they end up in the ocean, because they don’t degrade the same way and release more harmful chemicals than plastic bags would,” Inkster said.
|Seaquam Secondary students Ashley Meagher, Caroll Gao and Rayne Inkster want to see the City of Delta ban single-use plastic bags. (James Smith photo)|
Biodegradable bags are potentially better than paper, they found, but the way we typically dispose of them negates that benefit.
“The way they biodegrade is using oxygen and sunlight, so when they’re put in landfills they’ll get covered with other garbage and so then they actually won’t biodegrade because they can’t have access to what they need,” Meagher said. “Without biodegrading properly, they release more harmful chemicals such as carbon dioxide [and] they lead to carbon monoxide in the air.”
As for reusable bags, Gao said, their environmental impact comes down to what they’re made of — plant-based fabrics or synthetic materials — and how many times they’re being reused.
“And that’s kind of a hard thing to track since it’s kind of up to the individual,” Gao said.
“We found that with bags that are plant-based it’s kind of similar to the paper bags: they take a lot of resources to grow the plants and process them into the bags. We found that for an average cotton bag you have to reuse it about 100 times before it’s ‘better’ for the environment than a plastic bag, in terms of the emissions and the footprint it’s leaving behind.
“But with a bag like a polypropylene bag, it only takes about 11 reuses before it’s ‘better’ for the environment, and really they last way more than 11 uses. So where we’re heading into is that polypropylene bags are probably the best alternative. Granted, they’re not perfect, but they’re what we’ve got right now.”
Research in hand, the trio created created a petition calling on the City of Delta to follow the lead of other municipalities like Victoria and San Francisco and ban single-use plastic bags.
“We really want to ban plastic bags in Delta, and hopefully that will spark the rest of the province to do the same, because it seems [to be] the progressive idea that’s going on around the world,” Meagher said. “Places like San Francisco, Victoria, Montreal, they’ve all done it as well, so we just want to get Delta caught up with the rest of the world.”
The group has been in contact with the Surfrider Foundation’s Victoria-based chapter, who led the effort to ban the bags in that city. Victoria’s bylaw came into effect on July 1, 2018, and businesses had six months to use up their existing stock of plastic bags. As well, the bylaw required consumers either pay 15 cents per paper bag used or purchase a reusable bag for $1. Those prices go up to 25 cents and $2 on July 1, 2019.
As of Wednesday morning, the petition had nearly 350 signatures.
“Ideally, I think we’d be shooting for something … around 2,000-3,000, but it would be great if we come something that is almost equal to the Delta population,” Gao said.
The students have also set up a Facebook page and Instagram account where they post about successes in other places as well as facts about how damaging plastic bags are and developments with their project.
“Even if we can’t get a ban going, it’d be nice to at least educate as many people as we can about the dangers of using plastic bags, or even paper bags, and what to be cautious of.” Inkster said.
|Coun. Dylan Kruger speaks about a report and petition by a trio of Seaquam Secondary students calling on the City of Delta to ban single-use plastic bags. (City of Delta webcast screen shot)|
To that end, the group has spoken with several members of Delta council and forwarded a copy of their report (see below) for council’s consideration. On Monday evening, Coun. Dylan Kruger referred the group’s report to the city’s new community liveability advisory committee
“I’d be very interested in looking at the feasibility of a plastic bag ban in Delta,” Kruger said at council on April 8. “I know that several cities, including the City of Victoria, Salmon Arm, Comox and Shuswap are looking at this or have passed similar resolutions.”
Kruger, who also sits on Metro Vancouver’s climate action committee, said the region is likely going to miss its waste diversion goal of 80 per cent by 2020 “as we are only at 63 per cent for 2019,” and so he believes it is critical that Delta continue to reduce the amount of waste it sends to landfills.
“I’d be interested in learning what banning plastic bags in Delta would do for our local waste diversion rate, but I’m also interested in learning what the consequences could be for small businesses making the switch.”