Two eastern North Carolina Senators have introduced a bill to repeal the plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks.  Senator Thom Goolsby, whose district includes Wilmington, and Buck Newton from Wilson County have introduced S318 to fully repeal all parts of the plastic bag ban.  The bill presently has eight co-sponsors.  This blogger fully supports repeal.   Click here to download a copy of the repeal bill.

The purpose of the bill was to tamp down on the bags that end up flying around on our beaches; a noble goal, to be sure.  Nobody likes seeing them flying around and we all are concerned for the habitat of the wildlife in our ecosystem.  But banning the bags is not the answer.  The bag in and of itself is not the problem; bags flying around the beaches are the problem.  So how do we combat this problem short of a ban?  Force should not be an option for a perfectly legal, useful product.  We’re smart people down here and we can accomplish this goal in ways that reflect our values.  Here are some ideas.

First we have a problem in our communities with the manner in which trash is stored and removed.  The number of containers required per rental home is not adequate.  Anyone who drives down through their neighborhood on trash day knows this.  Second, trash pickup schedules do not coincide with the days that the trash is taken out.  Let us work within our local communities to effect change in these areas.

Second, let us create a culture that rewards good behavior among tourists (let’s face it, the locals are not the problem here).  We could mount an education campaign in the supermarkets and retailers that encourages people to purchase re-usable bags; a serious campaign, not just a sticker on the counter at checkout.  Encourage grocery stores and large retailers to do this with incentives.  Encourage people to buy them with incentives.  Encourage rental owners to stock their rental properties with reusable bags and extend the education campaign to include rental properties and rental offices with flyers and signage.  Encourage owners to make it easy for their renters to recycle plastic bags.

Let’s not take the lazy way out, which is what this ban represents.  Let’s use our noodle and do it in a way that is encouraging and a model for other communities.  Force is not the best way to accomplish anything.  The ban should be repealed because there are better ways to solve the problem that are in keeping with our values of personal liberty, encouragement of small business growth, protecting our environment and educating our visitors about our ecosystem.

One of the most important reasons to lift the ban is public health.  A 2010 study found unsafe levels of bacteria in used reusable bags.  It is just a fact that most people do not wash their bags.  The combination of a hot car, residual food material and people and pet detritus builds up in the bags and makes them unsanitary.  Just ask any grocery clerk at HT or FL about how disgustingly dirty the bags are that they are forced to handle.  I sent a letter to Ann Thomas, Dare County Director of Public Health detailing this study and others and have not even had the courtesy of a reply. This aspect of the ban is the part that some people would prefer be kept hidden away because it conflicts with the narrative of a clean, healthy environment.

Second, most people frankly don’t use the reusable bags, they opt for paper.  Paper costs more in energy and dollars to manufacture, transport, store and recycle.  There is no net energy savings from plastic.

Third, the ban creates a burden on the elderly and those who cannot easily carry the paper bags.  The handles break off, the bags tear and you often need two hands to carry the bags.  These bags create a burden for the elderly or those not nimble enough to carry the paper bags up all those stairs.

Fourth, the paper bags are a burden to business owners.  Paper bags cost more and are not easy to store.  They take up more space.  They do not give the small business owner the flexibility to brand their product with special bags.  The confluence of heat, humidity and paper create a breeding ground for what Southerners like to call Palmetto bugs but what I call roaches.

Finally, Marc Basnight set aside money in the budget to study the effects of the ban.  That money can be better utilized to close the budget gap.

All in all, there is no need to use force, with all its unintended consequences, when you can use you reason, incentive and education to solve a problem.

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