Originally posted in the Lumina News
Thursday, March 10, 2011
It has been five months since a state statute to reduce the single use of plastic bags has been enacted for three of North Carolina’s coastal counties—Currituck, Dare and Hyde—a region identified by its brand: the Outer Banks.
Dare County manager, Bobby Outten said by telephone Wednesday, March 9 that compliance has not been an issue. "It’s not our responsibility to enforce a state law, but when you go into any of the stores, there are no plastic bags … they’re gone," Outten said.
The statute does not apply to the purchase of fish and seafood, meat, poultry and produce while paper bags stamped with the recycled symbol are now the standard in big box stores like Wal-Mart, Food Lion and Harris Teeter, Outten said. "It’s just not an issue," he added.
Incremental enactment of the statute has been in the works since September 2009 when Senate Bill 1018, ratified in June 2009, was amended. "There was a grace period, if you’d already ordered your bags you could use them but you couldn’t order any new ones," Outten said. "Basically it allowed people to get rid of what they had before the season started the next year."
Smaller stores, less than 5,000 square feet, that are not part of a retail chain, have until May 1 this year before making the switch.
The subject of a plastic bag ban was first mentioned locally by alderman Lisa Weeks while she was working with Sean Ahlum in September 2009 to develop a door-to-door recycling survey for Wrightsville Beach residents. Ahlum was then the president of the Surfrider Foundation Cape Fear chapter but has since joined the organization’s international board of directors.
Weeks, now Mayor Pro Tem of the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen said Ahlum is on the BOA’s April agenda to speak about Surfrider’s bag ban initiatives in larger locales, Washington, D.C., for example.
"I think the Atlantic and Pacific garbage patch will resonate with people … with trash washing ashore," Weeks said. "It never goes away. It just breaks down, breaks down, breaks down and enters the food chain."
Weeks, along with Mayor David Cignotti, has mentioned the possibility of a plastic bag law for New Hanover County to Rep. Danny McComas in January; but when the topic was raised by county commission vice chairman Jason Thompson at a joint meeting of aldermen and commissioners last month, in Weeks’ absence, Alderman Susan Collins said the item had not been discussed as a board.
"It hasn’t been an item," Weeks said by telephone on Wednesday, March 9, "because I felt like it’s got to be a county-wide initiative so it’s really up to the county to see if it’s even feasible for us to write legislation before I put it on the agenda for us to make a resolution for it."
There is more than one way to approach the larger issue besides an outright ban, Weeks said.
"Some municipals do a 10-cent charge on the bag and when you bring it back you get credited so there’s an incentive to recycle the bags, and others charge an outright 10 cents a bag and use that money … for purchasing green open space," Weeks said.
Outten, who said he keeps a stash of reusable cloth bags in his vehicle, shops at Food Lion, where he said, "They give you a nickel off your bill per bag."
When the legislation process began, Outten said then Sen. Marc Basnight called elected officials and county administrators to talk with them about what he wanted to do, why he wanted to see it done and why it was important. Those ideals were later drafted in early 2009 by Sen. Josh Stein of Wake County as SB 1018.
The ratified statute includes language that supports the detrimental effect that single-use discarded plastic bags have in the landfill and on the environment especially in a coastal setting—namely barrier islands that because of their proximity to the Gulf Stream are important sea turtle nesting grounds.
"Discarded plastic bags contribute to overburdened landfills, threaten wildlife and marine life, degrade the beaches and other natural landscapes of North Carolina’s coast, and in many cases, require consumption of oil and natural gas during the manufacturing process."
The statute also acknowledges the sheer numbers of seasonal visitors to barrier islands and the increased use of plastic bags due to the volume of restaurant, grocery and retail purchases.
"Barrier islands are small and narrow, and therefore the comparative impact of plastic bags on the barrier islands is high," the statute states. Weeks said she spoke with Thompson about the feasibility of enrolling Masonboro Island into any draft resolution or future legislation as a stand-in for the National Seashore areas identified in the Outer Banks statute.
Thompson has said he would not pursue the matter further until Wrightsville Beach aldermen had arrived at some consensus which Weeks is hoping to build as Ahlum makes the rounds in the next several months presenting Surfrider’s findings to Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and the county before she puts a resolution before the BOA.