Raising the issue of plastic: Rise Above Plastic (bags) campaign

Maya Stano with the plastic bag monster at the Opening Screening of “Addicted to Plastic.”

By Abby Wiseman [Environmental Bureau Chief]

Maya Stano is on a mission to get Vancouverites to kick their plastic habits by pursuing a city-wide bag ban.

Stano, 31, is heading up the Rise Above Plastics campaign, which is a campaign to reduce the use of single-use plastics. For Stano the campaign has struck a personal chord, and to her the ban is about more than reducing waste, it’s about patriotism.

“I love our country so much and we have so much wilderness remaining, but at the same time, I see that wilderness being attacked on so many levels,” said Stano.

She has a degree in environmental engineering and previously worked for an environmental consulting firm that contracted out to oil and mining companies.  Stano had been involved mainly with the engineering side of things, but found after having the chance to work within communities, she wanted to be involved in the protection of the environment, not the exploitation of it.

Stano realized she had a passion for legal issues after writing the law exam required to become a professional engineer. She decided to walk away from engineering and become a law student at UBC.  She wanted to get involved with a cause that needed someone with a legal background, and found the ocean conservation group, Surfrider Foundation.  She quickly became the vice-chair of the Vancouver chapter, and right away headed up Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics (RAP) campaign.

“In three years I’ve never seen someone connect with it that much and take something and just make it their own,” said Haley Haggerstone, chair of the Surfrider Foundation Vancouver chapter. “It’s what we needed.”

Haggerstone was pleased to have someone who was so driven and shared the same views on board. She’s amazed at how Stano juggles law school, Surfrider, marriage and work, and still manages to snowboard.

Stano has found a way to incorporate her activism and her school work by using her experience with RAP for school reports.

Stano has been preparing a report advocating the banning of plastic bags in Vancouver, as well as producing a publication for local businesses encouraging them to cut down on their plastic bag use.

“Maya has great thirst for knowledge understanding of various groups,” said Toby Reid of Sole Gear Bioplastics. “She’s a really good leader and good team builder and I’ve got a lot of respect for her as a person and as an activist.”

Reid owns a company that makes biodegradable plastics and has been working with Stano on the campaign. He’s impressed with Stano’s zeal for the cause and ability to get people involved, but he also knows that in the end the success of the campaign relies on politics.

“I feel good with the way things are so far, but I’ll feel better when things are actually signed and agreements made and plans put in place,” said Reid.

Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer appreciates the work that Stano has been doing, but knows that banning plastic bags isn’t enough.

“It’s very easy to ban plastic bags, it’s almost impossible to enforce that ban,” said Reimer. “It’s whether you want to take the hollow or empty action, or whether you want to work on the policies that would enable us to enforce it.”

The problem is that Vancouver city council does not have the power to make bylaw violators pay their tickets. The city could ban plastic bags, but in order to get non co-operating violators to pay the fines they would have to go to court, which Reimer said could cost tax payers an upwards of $90,000 each case.

Reimer was initially excited about the plastic bag ban, but has since shifted her focus to creating a municipal ticketing system which would allow the city to enforce fine payments.

Stano is prepared for this and knows that if the city fails she’ll have to go to the province.

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