Lisa Wegener shows some alternatives to plastic bags she uses (l-r): handwoven craft bags, made of old plastic; an elephant-grass bag; and an unbleached cotton bag.John Boivin photo

Lisa Wegener shows some alternatives to plastic bags she uses (l-r): handwoven craft bags, made of old plastic; an elephant-grass bag; and an unbleached cotton bag. John Boivin photo

Is Rossland ready for a plastic bag ban?

Activist says yes, while business raises concerns

“Why are you drinking from that?” asks Lisa Wegener, looking down at my disposable paper coffee cup. “They’re supposed to ask you if you want to drink from a china cup first.”

It’s a fair question coming from a woman the News has just interviewed about reducing waste in Rossland.

Wegener, the head of a loosely organized group called Rossland Reduces Plastic, is a waste-reduction evangelist in the city. And she’s delighted council is looking at banning plastic bags.

“I was thrilled,” she says of hearing about council directing staff last week to draw up a Victoria-style bylaw banning bags. “We’ve been working towards this for three years now.”

Wegener’s group isn’t the only one that’s been lobbying for the ban. Just two weeks ago, grade-school students made a presentation to council pushing for a ban as part of a wider move to make the city greener.

Wegener says she understands why it’s taken so long to get the initiative started.

“It wasn’t inertia. It is a small community, and we have to keep people happy,” she says. “Our merchants are very important. It was something the city felt it couldn’t arbitrarily do. And, she [Mayor Kathy Moore] had to wait for the outcome of the court case in Victoria.”

Now that the ban is actually going to happen, Wegener says her group has to get serious about setting up alternative options for consumers and businesses shopping in Rossland.

“We have a significant group that’s loosely commited to helping out,” she says. “What we need is sub-groups of people to address issues, do education, media, and research,” she says. “We are also partnering under the umbrella of a local non-profit, who will assist us in writing grant applications.”

Wegener would like to see re-usable bags put in every hotel room in the city, so tourists can have an alternative to using plastic bags at local shops. And bins set up where people can put extra resuable bags they might have, so someone forgetting one doesn’t need plastic.

“Right now the major focus is plastic bags, providing education, researching and get funding to get alternatives to plastic bags,” she says. “We are setting up the option for it to make it easier for people and business, make the transition easier.”

But some businesses are concerned by proposal to ban plastic bags from the city.

“I’m all for getting rid of plastic bags, as long as everyone is treated the same,” says Dave Ferraro, who runs Ferraro Foods, the main grocery store in town. “I’ve spoken to Mayor Moore, and what I tried to explain in a nice way, is she is putting a burden on us, a huge cost.”

Ferraro says the math is pretty simple. He hands out 2-3,000 plastic bags a day, at two cents a bag. That’s compared to up to 20 cents for a paper bag, and even more for a reusable. (Ferraro’s sells reusable bags for less than cost, and reuses produce boxes for packing to encourage greener shopping).

Ferraro is faced with either increasing prices to customers, or absorbing ten times the overhead in packaging.

“How do I pass this on?” he asks. “It is a huge bill.”

It would be fine if the whole region was plastic-bag free, he says, but consumers can just head down the hill to Trail, and shop without the extra overhead of paying for a plastic or paper bag.

“It will put businesses in Rossland at a huge disadvantage,” he says.

Ferraro says he will follow what his customers want. He plans to put up signage and canvas customers on their feelings about a ban.

“I will prepare my case and present it to the people of Rossland,” he says. “If they want to pay 10 cents for a paper bag, I am OK with it.”

Ferraro says this project is coming out of the mayor’s office, and needs more consultation.

“I have a problem when the mayor seems to be doing what is best for her. She has been pushing for this,” he says. “She should be going out and asking businesses and people in town, ‘do you want this’?”

But Wegener says people do want this, and while she admits there may be adjustments for business, she says they can prepare for an upcoming ban.

“There’s no easy answer to this, except to start phasing out your plastic bags now,” she says. “Use up your inventory, and start providing alternative to customers. Ask them if they need a bag, or start offering five cents for plastic bags, or 10 cents for paper.

She says other communities she’s lived in have gone through the plastic ban, and it worked out OK for business there.

“They didn’t seem to come across remotely resentful or resigned,” she says. “They actually were gaining profit, instead of bringing in flats of plastic bags, bringing in bags they they were making a profit on. They were doing great.”

Wegener understands the concerns, but has little time for them. You keep forgetting your reusable bag? Put it on your doorknob, or have a few in the car, she suggests. Want a disposable cup? Buy a metal one, or get one as swag from a business. Need a straw? Drink from the cup, or use a paper one. What about other plastic waste? One step at a time.

“If Vancouver can do it, and I am confident they will be, I am certain our little town of 3,500 people can be. It is about education and promotion of what the alternatives are.”

So when does Wegener want to see the ban put in place by the city? September 1? December 1?

“Yesterday,” she says, laughing.