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Plastic Bag Ban For Outer Banks

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plasticbags1Plastic bags are getting the boot from the barrier islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, under a crafty piece of legislation tucked neatly into the General Assembly’s budget plan.

The new law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, expands a plastic bag ban that was enacted last year and prohibited large retail stores from distributing lightweight plastic bags to their customers. The new turbo-charged law, pushed by Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, a Down East Democrat, will ban plastic bags of any weight from being used by any business – from the largest retail operations to the smallest mom-and-pop stores – located on the Outer Banks of Dare, Currituck and Hyde counties.

Retailers will be required to substitute paper bags, made of at least 40 percent recycled material, for plastic bags and offer cash refunds to customers using reusable bags. The amount of the refund must be at least equal to the cost to the retailer of providing a recycled paper bag, multiplied by the number of reusable bags filled with items purchased by a customer. With the average cost of recycled paper bags ranging from 5 to 10 cents per bag, it’s not surprising that some Outer Bank merchants are already wishing the new law would be recycled.

In a survey conducted by the Currituck County Chamber of Commerce, more than half of the 100 responding businesses had a negative opinion of the plastic bag ban.

That’s in stark contrast to the official line being pushed by Basnight’s office, where officials said that a letter mailed to 500 retailers earlier this year, pitching the proposed ban, yielded only a dozen or so negative responses.

“There is nothing I like about the overreaching of government,” Basnight wrote in the letter. “But on certain issues – like this one – that threaten our economy, our health, and our way of life, I do believe that government has a responsibility to its people and an appropriate role to play.”

In addition to the mandated refunds that retailers will have to provide to customers toting their own reusable bags, the new law potentially carries additional costs: fines. The N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources will be charged with enforcing the ban with inspections similar to the ones given to restaurants for sanitation. The first violation of the plastic bag ban would cost $100. A second violation within the same 12-month period would fetch a $200 fine, and additional violations would be $500.

Retail stores that are smaller than 5,000 square feet and not part of a retail chain can continue to provide customers with plastic bags that were purchased before May 2010, until the store’s existing supply is depleted.

In targeting the Outer Banks for the plastic bag ban, proponents argue that the barrier islands are visited by a high volume of tourists and that the region experiences a higher consumption of plastic bags because of the large number of purchases made by the “itinerant tourist population.”

On the same hand, legislators who support the ban claim that removing the debris caused by plastic bags from the Outer Banks is more difficult and expensive, and that leaving it untended deters tourism.

Lest proponents come off as hardcore capitalists who care only for the tourism buck, the ban was also justified because, in the words of the General Assembly: “The barrier islands are most relevant in that they are where sea turtles come to nest. North Carolina has some of the most important sea turtle nesting areas on the East Coast, due to the proximity of the islands to the Gulf Stream. Plastic bag debris can be harmful to sea turtles and other land and marine life. The waters adjacent to the barrier islands, because they serve as habitat for the turtles, are particularly sensitive to waterborne debris pollution.”

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