Tofino Co-op employee Ruthie Gallic is thrilled to hand out reusable bags rather than plastic ones. (Photo - Surfrider Pacific Rim)

Surf group winning the war on plastic bags

The Tofino Co-op will no longer provide plastic bags, following in the footsteps of the Ucluelet location that already made the change earlier this year.

A local surf group on Vancouver Island has chalked up another victory in its battle against plastic bags.

The people behind Surfrider Pacific Rim — a coalition passionate about cleaning up the ocean and beaches — have convinced businesses in both Tofino and Ucluelet to discontinue using plastic bags and instead only use re-useable cloth bags or paper.

“The Tofino Co-op alone would give out over 76,000 bags per year, that’s a lot of plastic that’s being saved from landfill, litter, the beach and ocean,” said Surfrider Pacific Rim chair Michelle Hall. “Huge kudos to all of the businesses whom currently do not hand out plastic bags at check out. We want to hear from you and celebrate and learn from you to help other businesses in the community make the transition.”

Following in the footsteps of the Ucluelet Co-op, which eliminated plastic bags earlier this year, the Tofino Co-op will offer paper bags for 10 cents each, reusable cloth bags for $1, and free cardboard boxes to cart groceries home in, according to Surfrider Pacific Rim chair Michelle Hall.

Hall added free re-useable bags created by Surfrider’s Stitch ‘n’ Beach group will be available at the Co-op’s entrance.

RELATED: Tofino turns old wetsuits into new yoga mats

“To date we have made and donated close to 2,000 bags for the community,” Hall beamed. “People are aware that single use plastic is a problem of our generation, and that it isn’t going to go away overnight. So small changes in personal consumerism, like a single use plastic bag will bring more awareness and inspiration to think, ‘What next?’.”

Anyone with clean bags to donate can drop them off at either the Tofino or Ucluelet Co-ops.

Hall said moving on from plastic bags should be a no-brainer by now as West Coasters are well aware of what discarded plastics do to beaches and sea life.

“Plastic bags were invented as a convenience for shopping, part of the throwaway lifestyle before we knew better. But now we all do know better,” she said.

“We remember to bring our very own personalized reusable bag to the store, our cups to the coffee shop and our water bottle to the beach. I love seeing all of the different art, and colours and choices that people have for their re-usables. It’s what defines us. What doesn’t define us, is a wasteful throwaway community, a polluter of the ocean, and a threat to the marine life and food security.”

Expanding the movement

Hall is in Victoria this week to help lobby for a plastic bag ban in the province’s capital.

“It makes sense for Victoria to lead the way as the capital of B.C., so that it can support all of the communities in BC who might have struggled with the resources to research and enforce a ban,” she said adding Victoria chapter manager for Surfrider Vancouver Island Gillian Montgomery has been working on banning plastic bags for several years.

“This will allow for communities like Pacific Rim to follow suit, and have the tools and resources to present to council to enforce a ban here. In the meantime, Surfrider are working with businesses to support voluntarily moving away from plastic bags, and helping to educate and provide alternatives.”

She said she has reached out to Tofino mayor Josie Osborne and is researching other communities that have banned plastic bags, but that education must come first.

“For Surfrider, it’s important not to seek a bylaw before getting the education and support out to the community,” she said. “We have already proven that so many businesses are seeking ways to move away from single use plastics, and want to be involved. That’s when success and change happen, when the community are behind the campaign, and we know that so many of the community are.”

She noted Tofino’s municipal council supported a voluntary plastic bag ban in 2007.

“Lots of amazing people in this community fought to make plastic bags a thing of the past then, but with no bylaw in place, it cannot be enforced,” she said. “I think, it’s time to harness that energy that was created back in 2007, that had councillors in agreement that petrochemical-based, single-use plastic bags should be banned, this time with a little more muscle and Surfrider stoke.”

She said a survey will begin circulating this month to collect information on plastic bag use and ideas for transitioning away from them.

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