Plastic-bag ban faces expansion

Published 9:44 pm Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Staff Writer

State Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, has sent a letter to more than 600 Outer Banks businesses regarding his proposal to ban plastic bags distributed by businesses on the Outer Banks.
A law enacted last year imposed a limited ban on “flimsy lightweight bags sold at major retailers,” Basnight wrote in an open letter sent to community leaders in Dare, Hyde and Currituck counties Tuesday.
Basnight proposes widening the scope of the law, making it applicable to all businesses on the state’s barrier islands.
The senator’s recommendation has passed as part of the Senate’s adjustments in the two-year state budget, said Schorr Johnson, Basnight’s spokesman.
The goal is to get plastic bags out of the water, off roadsides and encourage use of reusable bags, Johnson said.
“It’s not to encourage paper bags, but paper bags are biodegradable and come from a renewable resource,” Johnson said.
Basnight has “received very little, if any, negative feedback” about the proposed change, his spokesman said.
The concept is not a prelude to a statewide ban on plastic bags, Johnson suggested.
“Doing this for counties that depend on tourism and have the most environmentally sensitive areas of the state is something that retailers and the public seem to go along with,” he said. “I think (Basnight) believes that this is sending a message to the whole state, but does not believe that any sort of statewide ban would pass. He will not be pushing for one, and this would just take it to all (Outer Banks) retailers and not just the chain and large retailers in those counties.”
Allen Burrus, owner of Burrus Market on Hatteras, is a business owner whose store has been affected by the ban.
“As a small businessman, any time that you affect your bottom line by thousands of dollars, it’s never a good thing,” said Burrus, who is vice chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.
Initially, recycled paper bags were hard to find because big chains like Wal-Mart and Food Lion “sucked them right up,” he said, adding that paper bags are now more widely available to area businesses.
Burrus said his customers have the option of using four different-size cloth bags for their groceries.
As for the paper bags, “There’s not a whole lot of complaints on a pretty day. If it’s windy and rainy, I hear it in a heartbeat.”
Asked what he hears from his customers when the subject of the ban is broached, Burrus referred to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“They just shake their heads, most of them, and say, ‘We’re going to regulate bags, but nobody was regulating the oil industry in the Gulf at all.’”
Basnight’s Republican opponent, Hood Richardson of Washington, mentioned the plastic-bag ban last week during a campaign appearance at a meeting of the Beaufort County Republican Women’s Club.
Richardson focused primarily on environmental regulations he said are pushed through by Basnight, who serves as president pro tempore of the Senate.
“This is why it is vital that we overturn his election,” said Richardson, who’s a Beaufort County commissioner.
The Hyde County Board of Commissioners has not taken a position on the ban, said David Smitherman, interim county manager.
In his letter, the Basnight lays out his position on the ban by emphasizing the need to protect area beaches and the local economy.
“That concern for the economic well-being of our community, and for the health of our people, is what led me to last year’s law to reduce the use of plastic bags in the Outer Banks,” Basnight wrote. “The Outer Banks is in the business of looking good. Our natural beauty is a top reason that millions of people come here every year and support our community. I have seen so many bags in our area, as I know you have — hanging in trees, from marsh grasses, and on our dune’s sea oats. They flutter in the wind and likely end up in our waters. At some point I began to wonder what effects these plastic bags were having on our environment — or if they posed no more harm than simply being an eyesore.”
Basnight wrote that he began to look into environmental issues tied to plastic bags, “and what I found was disturbing.”
“Plastic bags are made of high-density polyethylene and titanium chloride — or more simply put, complex carbons and transitional metal — and they break down into tiny pieces in the water,” the letter reads. “Scientists are currently studying the potential impacts these plastic materials and other chemicals could have on marine life and, later, to human health as a result of seafood consumption. And although we do not yet know for certain what these impacts will be to our fisheries, I would much rather err on the side of caution than to see our fisheries fall apart because of something that we could have stopped.”