News: Quick Takes

N.C. Senate committee discusses sacking plastic bag ban

One lawmaker thinks it’s high time that North Carolina sack a ban on plastic bags.

A proposed committee substitute from Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, aims, as part of House Bill 56, to repeal the longstanding ban. The provision, enacted in 2009, prohibits businesses in several Outer Banks counties from using plastic bags, with some exceptions.

The intent of the law was to protect the environment, especially the beaches, from these invasive plastic bags. It was the brainchild of former Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, who also owns a seafood restaurant near Manteo.

But, as the story goes, intent is not always the same as outcome.

Brooks Rainey Pearson, a staff attorney from the Southern Environmental Law Center, countered Cook’s argument by claiming that volunteers with Surfrider, a nonprofit green group, have reported fewer bags on the beach and that repealing the ban would endanger sea turtles. “If you are for small government, you should not repeal this ban,” Pearson advised legislators. “The locals love this, and the small businesses on the banks support this.”

Katherine Mangu-Ward, editor-in-chief at Reason magazine, put plastic bag bans under the microscope back in October 2015.

Mangu-Ward said plastic bags aren’t a major killer of marine life, but rather fishing gear is a greater issue for eco-friendly groups like Greenpeace. Furthermore, Mangu-Ward cites numerous studies that show plastic bags account for a small fraction of litter and that most Americans tend to reuse or recycle them instead.

“The 2009 Keep America Beautiful Survey, run by Steven Stein of Environmental Resources Planning, shows that all plastic bags, of which plastic retail bags are only a subset, are just 0.6 percent of visible litter nationwide,” Mangu-Ward pointed out.

While Cook didn’t bring up these points, he did take issue with the economic cost of the ban, claiming that it cost businesses thousands of dollars to comply.

“The actual ban doesn’t work. It is just an impediment to commerce, and it just makes a few people feel good,” Cook said. “It’s not something that states should be doing, requiring businesses to act a certain way.”

Cook said small businesses don’t have to use plastic bags if they don’t want to, but a law mandating a ban isn’t necessary.