Rosslanders were reminded everywhere to try to reduce their plastic-bag use in 2007. The campaign cut single-use bag consumption by 75 per cent in a year. Photo from Greener Footprints: The Rossland Story

12 years later, an activist roots for Rossland plastic bag ban

Tracey Saxby helped kick-start Canada’s first drive to ban single-use bags

When Rossland city council votes on banning plastic bags from the city in the next few weeks, there’ll be at least one environmental activist cheering them on from afar.

For Tracey Saxby, the council vote is the culmination and continuation of work she started in Rossland a dozen years ago.

“I’m really excited about that, and I am hoping the policy passes,” she said from her home in Squamish. “I strongly urge council to make this happen, it is long overdue.”

Saxby started a campaign in Rossland in 2007 called the Greener Footprints Society in an effort to ban plastic bags from the city.

“When the plastic bag campaign started I was pretty young, and I felt pretty hopeless about the state of the world,” recalls Saxby. “This was something each and every person could do something about. We weren’t relying on government, on companies, on anybody else but ourselves to make a change in our behaviour.”

Saxby’s campaign took off. Volunteers began joining the society, and taking the message out to schools, community groups, and on the sidewalks. Businesses were approached for their ideas and support. Petitions were drawn up, and sponsors gathered to fund an in-town drive to hand out hundreds of reusable bags.

SEE VIDEO: Greener Footprints: The Rossland Story

The Society began to get media coverage, and within a year Rosslanders had voluntarily reduced plastic bag use by 75 per cent.

The movement began taking off in other communities across Canada.

“I accidentally kick-started a grassroots movement that went across Canada,” says Saxby. “I quit my job for two years and I volunteered full-time with communities across B.C. and Canada to help other volunteers make their communities plastic-bag free.

“So this initiative that started in Rossland really had a far reach.”

Saxby says she “crashed pretty hard” in 2009, and stepped back from the movement, only to find it went on just fine without her. Now she’s busy with a new group, called MySeatoSky, a Vancouver-Island-based organization that’s fighting a proposed liquified natural gas facility, as well as encouraging people to move away from single-use plastics.

“Because of our over-consumption, our dependency on single-use items, we are creating a big problem with climate change. We may not have a livable planet if we don’t respond in the next 11 years,” she says. “But as important as it is to try to change our own behaviour, it’s not enough.

“The new organization I started is trying to tackle climate change not only from the top-down but from the bottom-up. We are trying to tackle big issues at the government level as well.”

Saxby says they’re trying to do that with skills learned in the Rossland plastic campaign — by offering people solutions, not just awareness of problems.

“There are so many alternatives to plastic bags, we don’t need them. That’s partly why the campaign was successful, we focused on solutions,” she says.

“‘Don’t want to use a plastic grocery bag? Here’s an alternative.’ ‘What do you do to pick up dog poop? Here’s an alternative.’

“That’s why that campaign resonated with people, because it was solution-focused. There was a whole list of solutions on the website we had at the time,” she says.

A decade after the campaign’s big push, there’s been a fair amount of backsliding — stores began using plastic bags again, people got out of the habit of taking reusable bags with them. But then Victoria won a legal challenge against its plastic bag bylaw, which prompted Mayor Kathy Moore to introduce a bylaw for Rossland.

SEE: Is Rossland ready for a plastic bag ban?

“In 2007 we wanted to ban, we couldn’t, there wasn’t the legislation in place at the provincial level to enable municipalities to ban plastic bags,” recalls Saxby.

“You can see the campaign has evolved now, and people are tackling plastic straws and single-use coffee cups, take-out containers, all these other single-use items we didn’t used to need, but the plastic industry has convinced us is indispensable to our daily lives.

“It’s been amazing to see it evolve, and amazing to see how the grass-roots movement has just continued.”

SEE: Bylaw banning plastic bags introduced to Rossland council

She says she’ll be watching Rossland’s bylaw progress, and hopes for the best.

“I think it is an amazing outcome 12 years later to finally ban plastic bags,” she says. “That was the intention of the original campaign. So to see that happen would be amazing.”

The City of Rossland is holding a public meeting to discuss the plastic bag ban bylaw on Monday, June 3 at the Miners Hall, at 6 p.m.

The bylaw has passed second reading and, barring any unforeseen problems, should be in place this summer. The bylaw gives a grace period for businesses and the public before penalties are imposed for using bags.

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Tracey Saxby, from the 2012 documentary Greener Footprints: “I was pretty young, and I felt pretty hopeless about the state of the world.”

Volunteers joined the campaign in droves in 2007, helping spread the word and re-usable bags around town. From the 2012 documentary Greener Footprints.

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