By Rob Morris on March 11, 2011A group of Republican lawmakers wants to undo a final legacy of former state Senate leader Marc Basnight — the ban on plastic bags in northern coastal counties.
The Senate bill filed Thursday calls for repealing the ban initiated by the Dare County Democrat and relying on programs that encourage reusing and recycling plastic bags.
After specifying stores larger than 5,000 square feet, the ban was expanded last October to include all retailers on the barrier islands of Hyde, Dare and Currituck counties. It received mixed reactions on the Outer Banks.
None of the 10 sponsors are from the three counties, and all are Republicans from several regions of the state. The primary sponsors are Sen. Thom Goolsby of New Hanover, a coastal county that includes Wilmington, and E.S. “Buck” Newton of Nash and Wilson counties.
The ban requires stores to offer recyclable paper bags and to give a 5-cent rebate for each re-usable bag a customer provides.
Newton is not against programs that protect the environment, said his legislative director, Rachel Lee. “He’s for programs that work,” she said.
One of the arguments against the ban is that too many paper bags are being used, rather than re-useable cloth bags, and their production and delivery have their own environmental consequences.
Ivy Ingram of the Outer Banks Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, which advocates maintaining the ban, said plastic bags have a more significant impact.
“While it is true paper bags have their own environmental impact, it is the plastic bag (low and/ or high density polyethylene aka petroleum) that never biodegrades and is the most dangerous to our coastlines, waterways and marine life,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“The fact remains that by eliminating the use of plastic bags in coastal communities we reduce plastic marine debris, saving some of the estimated 1.5 million marine animals who lose their life each year due to plastic.”
Filing of the bill Thursday coincided with North Carolina being added to a web-based campaign that promotes recycling and reusing plastic bags. The website abagslife.com includes among its sponsors the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association and the American Chemistry Council. Plastics is among the industries the council represents.
The bill says that Texas, Florida, and Virginia have launched successful education campaigns. They are the other states included on abagslife.com.
In January, Brownsville became the first city in Texas to ban single-use plastic bags, according to the Houston Chronicle. Shoppers must bring their own or pay $1 for a single-use bag, according to plasticbaglaws.org, and other Texas communities are considering bans.
Earlier this year, a state House committee tabled a bill to ban plastic bags in Virginia, the Virginia Gazette reported.
According to the North Carolina legislation, the ban is unproven and only 1 percent of transactions so far have involved a reusable bag. To comply, businesses have spent money that could have been used to expand or hire people, the bill says.
It adds that “state funds have been set aside for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department’s Divisions of Waste Management and Environmental Assistance and Outreach to monitor and study the success of the prohibition, but these funds could be better spent in light of the State facing a large budget deficit.”
Basnight championed the plastic bag ban, which first went into effect in 2009. The longtime Senate president pro-tem resigned earlier this year for health reasons. He was re-elected in November but lost his leadership position after the Republican takeover of both chambers.