Is a return to “Paper or Plastic?” on the horizon? - Shooting The Breeze


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In Honor of Irene | Home | A Primer on the Buxto…

Is a return to “Paper or Plastic?” on the horizon?

Friday 10 March 2017 at 5:23 pm.


 On March 7, Rep. Beverly Boswell (R-Dare) introduced a two-page bill in the NC House of Representatives that would repeal the ban on plastic bags in certain coastal areas, including Hatteras Island.

Citing that “this prohibition impacts North Carolina businesses large and small… and hinders their ability to create jobs,” the bill would bring plastic bags back to the grocery stores, and would essentially replace the ban with a “voluntary educational program informing citizens of the availability of recycling sites throughout the entire State.”

The original ban, which was the initiative of then Senate leader Marc Basnight of Dare County, was passed in 2009, and was truly one of the first of its kind. Since it went into effect, more than 125 areas across the country have generated similar bans on plastic bags.

The nuts and bolts of the original ban from 2009 is simple enough. Retail stores in Ocracoke, Hatteras, and the coastal Outer Banks are required to use recyclable brown paper bags instead of the traditional plastic bags, and customers who bring their own reusable bags to the store are eligible for a 5 cent credit per bag.

When the ban originated, it was promoted as a way to keep the beaches and waterways cleaner, and it did receive some initial blowback from customers. After all, it used to be that after a grocery store trip, you could pile bags onto your arms like a star weightlifter, and make just one trip up several flights of stairs to unload the groceries. (My personal record was in the 10-bag-per-trip, or 5-bags-per-arm range.) But now, you had to balance these big bulky paper bags with slim handles that seemingly couldn’t handle the weight of anything heavier than a loaf of bread.

It was annoying at first for many of us, to be sure. But then we all got used to it, and most of us forgot that we lived in an area where plastic bags are not available, (unless we went on an out-of-town shopping trip.)

And while the plastic ban has likely slipped from our memories in recent years, this isn’t the first time a repeal to the plastic bag ban has been on the table.

In 2011, a nearly identical bill was introduced in the state legislation that would have effectively lifted the ban. But the proposed law didn’t move forward, and it eventually disappeared.

Until now.

It’s pretty evident that this new bill has some steam, with several big names - including House Majority Leader John Bell, IV (R-Craven) and House Deputy Majority Whip John Bradford, III (R-Mecklenburg) – signing on to the bill as primary sponsors. (Additional sponsors for the bill include Representatives Brisson, Clampitt, Ford, Hurley, McElraft, Pittman, Saine, Speciale, and Warren.) If passed, the bill will go into effect on July 1st.

Since the bill was introduced just a few days ago, the current ban has been plucked out of our forgotten memories and has launched back into conversation.

And regardless of what side of the issue a resident or visitor lands, there are several common talking points when it comes to the problems with what’s in place, and what’s potentially to come.

Issues with the Current Ban

For many retailers, the main points of contention on the current ban is the cost, and the overall fairness.

Certainly, the cost of producing paper bags versus plastic bags in one specific corner of North Carolina won’t put the big chains out of business – especially for companies that have dozens if not hundreds of stores across the southeast. It’s almost laughable to think that providing paper bags instead of plastic bags would cause Food Lion to shutter its doors forever, or would even cause the store to be unable to hire the seasonal help it needs to deal with the summer swell of visitors. Especially considering that the ban has now been in place for roughly eight years.

But it can be cost prohibitive for the “little guys” who are the preferred alternatives for many locals and visitors alike who support small businesses – especially businesses that have been on the island for generations.

“It’s hard, because for us, we have customers who feel passionately on both sides of the situation,” says Angela Conner Tawes, manager at Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton. “The bill is well intentioned, but it’s cost prohibitive. It costs 1.9 cents for a plastic bag, and 10.9 cents for a paper bag, and that is in addition to the 5 cent discount per bag, if they bring their own bag.”

Another issue for smaller stores is the loss of valuable storage space – which is especially crucial in isolated areas like Hatteras Island that aren’t on a main trucking or shipping route.

“Space is an issue for us,” says Tawes. “A pallet of paper bags takes up six times the amount of space as the same amount of plastic bags – space that we can’t use for merchandise because we need to have these bags in place.”

But for Tawes and many other retailers, one of the largest problems of the current ban is fairness.

Only certain sections of Dare County are subjected to the ban – Roanoke Island isn’t included – and there’s a lot of perceived gray area on which businesses are included and which aren’t, as well as what happens if a business doesn’t comply.

“We’d like to see basic fairness,” says Tawes. “If it doesn’t apply to the entire county, then it shouldn’t apply to us. There’s also no enforcement, so people who are doing the right thing and who are following the law are bearing the financial burden of it.”

“Whatever side you fall on, [the ban] should apply to everybody or nobody - that would be my basic critique of the entire ban. It’s frustrating that it’s not the same for all of us.”

Issues with the Proposed Bill

It’s still debated whether paper bags or plastic bags are worse, overall, for the environment. (Google “paper vs. plastic” and you’ll see exactly what I mean.)

But ban supporters have pointed to the fact that a plastic bag’s harm to local marine life is irrefutable- and on Hatteras Island, we have marine life in abundance.

William Thompson is the Lead Biological Science Technician for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and he has been patrolling the beaches for seven years.

“Plastic is something we see a lot of in what we do on the beach. We see it on the oceanside, soundside, and we see it in between,” he says. “Wherever we get a lot of pedestrian access, we see plastic, and it could be plastic in general, or it could be plastic bags.”

He notes that right now, the plastic bags that wind up on the beach are from visitors bringing them in from other areas of the state or country, or from other coastal areas in general.

“Often times, if you’re seeing them in the ocean, they are bags that for whatever reason were in the ocean and are washing ashore,” he says. “It’s hard to determine where these plastic bags are coming from – could be from people that live in areas that don’t have a plastic ban in place. But you probably see less [plastic bags] here than you would see somewhere else where there isn’t a ban.”

And while there are several inherent problems with these thin polyethylene plastic bags – (they’re hard to recycle because they don’t melt easily, they can last millions of years, and those handles are strong enough to tangle around the necks of birds and beach critters) – one of the biggest problems boils down to a single and specific characteristic.

Plastic bags look a lot like food.

“Plastic bags in general can affect a lot of things. But as for adversely affecting wildlife close to home, the [main problem] would be sea turtles,” says Thompson. “With the way plastic is, it’s pliable and it moves. When it’s in the water, it can look like prey items that a sea creature would eat naturally.”

“A plastic bag most resembles a jellyfish, and many species eat jellyfish,” he adds. “When plastic bags are introduced, there is more of a threat that sea turtles will see that plastic and ingest it.”

The internet is packed with videos of plastic bags floating in water – and even Thompson says that sometimes he’ll watch one and will struggle to tell if it’s plastic, or an actual jellyfish.

And our visiting sea turtles have been fooled too.

Thompson says that in the seven years that he has worked on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, at least one dead sea turtle found on the seashore has had plastic in its GI tract. “Another huge component [affected by plastic bags] is marine mammals. Marine mammals eat jellyfish, and we often find plastic in the GI track in marine mammals as well,” he says.

It’s a far more common problem than you’d think.

The Sea Turtle Conservatory reports that an estimated 100+ million marine animals are killed each year due to plastic debris, and a recent study that was covered by the Washington Post reported that half of the sea turtles on the planet have ingested some form of plastic.

"Turtles can be killed directly by ingesting plastics, through blockage of the intestines or through piercing of the intestinal wall," the lead researcher, Qamar Schuyler, told the Post. In addition, sea turtles can also die because of the toxic chemicals that were used in the production of the plastic, or which were absorbed while the plastic was floating in the ocean.

"More plastic bags will simply be out there – ones that visitors are bringing in with them, and ones that will be available here," said Thompson.

Essentially, if you have more plastic available, you’re going to have more plastic bags on the beach.

Boswell was not able to be reached for comment for this story, but her inbox and phone lines have been flooded with calls since news of the bill broke.

Here’s her contact information in case you want to join the conversation:


In addition, you can track the movements of the bill – and read the bill for yourself – here:

It’s a little early in the process to decipher the ultimate fate of this bill that was brought to the surface from the newly elected Boswell. But it seems to have more support from state legislators than its 2011 predecessor, and it is already garnering a lot of attention from businesses, environmental groups, and anyone who has a stake in Hatteras Island.

One thing is for certain at this point. The bill is certainly sparking a lot of heated conversation for everyone on Hatteras Island.



If it does pass why not give a discount for reusing plastic bags, they can be turned inside out!

Debbie - 10-03-’17 17:54

Um, i remember something of the dead whales that washed up in VB not to long ago. i believe they counted 40+ plastic bags in its tummy, no paper. Turtles love ‘em too! Those bags really decorate the farm-fields and forest as well.

mike - 10-03-’17 19:39
d. hollowell

Not the first time Beverly was not listening to her Dare Co. constituency. Just cashing another check from her Tea Party “buddies”.

d. hollowell - 10-03-’17 21:09
Mark Dingman

The ban on plastic bags on Hatteras Island has visibly reduced the litter along hight way 12 and in the bushes along the seashore. Paper degrades, plastic flies in the wind like flags from the bushes for months. We have enough of a problem on Hatteras Island with garbage cans left on the street, full with broken lids, from Saturday til Tuesday, and garbage blowing out. At least keep the ban on plastic.

Mark Dingman - 11-03-’17 06:26

I actually consider the current situation / law to be one of the best around. Just ‘no’ on plastic bags. Some jurisdictions charge for them. That just puts money in governments pocket.
As long as all business has to use paper it’s a level paying field.
I fail to see how giving customers a paper bag puts anyone out of business small retailer or large retailer.

Dave - 12-03-’17 10:41

Beverly Boswell is willing to trash her own neighborhood and yours for her ideology. This has nothing to do with plastic or paper, this has to do with her political belief. Stop it Beverly, you’re doing nothing but making a mess of the place. As for paper or plastic, I say neither. Everybody already has more cloth bags than they know what to do with. Spread them around. They’re like BIC pens in a big office—they’re everywhere, they’re communal, they just keep moving around and around. We all know the issues with plastic bags; they ugly up everything, don’t biodegrade, and are ocean-going grim reapers. Paper is better but far from a panacea; there are cost, durability and natural resource issues. Use any cloth bag just twelve times instead of 12 paper bags and you are officially on the plus side conservation-wise. And businesses will save money on cloth over both plastic and paper. Leave a space for free loaners donated by others. You can even sell them and make a buck. Everyone will instantly adjust and not miss a beat. It’ll just become a cherished tradtion that is both quaint and modern at the same time. Beverly Boswell, why are you wasting time and political capital on such a losing proposition for Dare County? Here’s a resounding NO from windy Hatteras Island. #RESIST

pussycat - 12-03-’17 14:23
Kevin McCabe

My wife and I started a movement about ten years ago vowing to take our heavy clothe bags to the store every trip. Many of those “turtle” bags are still in use today. Pretty simple if people would just use them. We do not need more plastic blowing around the island.

Kevin McCabe - 13-03-’17 08:36

Wow … absolutely nothing else to concentrate her efforts on eh … yeah lets change something that seems to working . DOH ! Every store should have re-usable’s at the end of each checkout line , they are cheap and last awhile . Either use paper or the re-usable’s . A lot less trash has been around since the stoppage . Should do away altogether with the plastic !

diver531 - 13-03-’17 09:39

After visiting OBX for the first time in 35+ years, it was disappointing to see the increase of litter from the growth that’s taken place there, but good to see the plastic ban. What the OBX doesn’t need right now is a return to the stone age. Nevertheless, in general, NC has never been a place without a litter problem. Sad to see it’s now spread to the OBX. HWY12 seemed to be permanently lined and scattered with the huge trash cans. The roadside piles of debris from storms were hideous, however in earnest, I suppose there are few options in that department (though it was a very strange sight to see in such a beautiful place). Using a cloth bag isn’t that hard. Buy a few bags (from where you shop), throw ‘em in the back seat or trunk and grab one on the way into the store. It just ain’t that hard to do.

Michael - 13-03-’17 10:04
salvo jimmy

One possible problem with re-usable bags that many folks don’t realize is leaking meat packages, if the bags are not periodically washed/sanitized.

salvo jimmy - 13-03-’17 10:45

The increased cost and storage footprint for paper bags, and apparent inequitable application of the law makes it untenable for small business(es). These points are well made in the article. If government is going to get its fingers into small business as a “feel good” measure (which this law is), it must be prepared to make those affected whole again, or repeal it, get out of the way and let the citizens and market drive the right outcome. Which, I agree, should be limited or no plastic at retail outlets.

Dave - 13-03-’17 11:18

how does the dollar general in Buxton get away with using plastic? Seems to be the only place that uses them.

pumpkinboy - 13-03-’17 12:23

….and the dollar G will continue putting everything it sells, no matter how small, in a bright yellow plastic bag….sigh….

BBC - 13-03-’17 12:38
PA Tim

To the retailers complaining of the cost, I say add the few extra pennies for the paper bag to my bill and I won’t even notice it. I do notice the plastic bags hanging in the brush and blowing around every highway I drive. The ban is a good thing. I tend toward the conservative in my political views, but overturning the plastic ban is an example of favoring ideology over logic.

PA Tim - 13-03-’17 14:49
Salvo jimmy

As I recall, at least in the beginning, the plastic mandate applies to stores of a certain minimum square footage and up, so small stores Did not have to comply.

Salvo jimmy - 13-03-’17 16:40

So in seven years only ONE turtle with a bag in GI tract and still no proof this caused the turtles death??? You people make it sound like turtles are dying all around us. Just more over reaction by the left with NO proof to back them.

Really? - 13-03-’17 19:05
Ray Midgett

Here is a fact for you. Most of the plastic bags that float around in our inlets, the ocean and land on the beaches are actually ice bags thrown overboard by boaters and fishermen. So, do we start putting ice in paper bags? As to bags on the highway, we need to close the tops of the garbage trucks and start enforcing the litter laws. Also,, I wonder if the Manteo waterfront dolphin tours allow people to carry plastic bags with food, etc. on their boats? :)

Ray Midgett - 14-03-’17 09:59
salvo jimmy

I personally have always requested paper, if it is available, from the time plastic first came about, but not so much environmentally wise.

I find paper, with the flat bottom, tends to stay upright and in place when being transported, as opposed to plastic letting stuff easily move about and spilling out of the bag.

Best though, is that by cutting the paper bag down the seam and cutting the bottom off, and handles if there; they can be made into great cheap targets for my pistol practice. Thus I really like getting stuff double bagged in paper.

BTW if I do have to take plastic, I just use them in the bathroom waste baskets.

salvo jimmy - 15-03-’17 07:51
The real Dave

After careful consideration, I think Joy hit the nail on the head with her headline/byline: “Paper or plastic?”

Allow the consumer to make the CHOICE of either, or reusable bags. Allow small businesses to assess bag usage and stock packaging accordingly. Get government out of the way and citizens will choose according to their desires. Everyone wins, without the need for feel-good laws or overbearing regulation and enforcement.

The real Dave - 15-03-’17 12:13

Oh, and always be skeptical when someone comes in and states “Here is a fact for you.” Opinions without observations are opinions, not facts.

Dave - 15-03-’17 12:14

I hate the plastic bags. But I hate more these types of regulations. I would prefer the businesses provide a choice and let the consumer choose.

AnonVisitor - 15-03-’17 13:01
Denny in Dayton

Personally I’ve always preferred paper to plastic, the funny thing is the plastic bag originated out of environmentalists, they didn’t like to see trees cut down (very renewable), and virgin paper is actually more environmentally friendly than recycled. That’s because of all the chemicals used to break down the paper fibers and put them back to reuse them.

I actually agree with Ray Midgett, the garbage trucks running up and down the island are constantly spewing trash both paper and plastic out of their open tops. The other thing to consider is the water currents bring much of the garbage of all sorts that show up on our beaches from the north (Virginia beach)or the south (Wilmington) depending on which beach you are on because of the way the currents run.

Ultimately I don’t like the strong hand of government dictating to consumers and businesses what they should do. This ban certainly hurts small local businesses more than it does businesses of scale (Food Lion), who also have the ability to “eat” losses until locals are out of business. Profit margins in the grocery business are among the smallest of any industry around 2%, so it doesn’t take much to tip the scales.

Denny in Dayton - 15-03-’17 23:23

The plastic bag “ban” has done more than anything else to keep the beaches and roadsides cleaner (still too much trash) and wildlife/marine life safer. Most tourists won’t travel with their reusable bags so they’d get gobs of plastic bags that would be blowing wild and free. I generally have a reusable bag or two but if I need a bag from the store I much prefer paper. I have no problem ending the mandatory 5¢ discount for reusable bags – I doubt many folks use them for that reason.

Tom - 16-03-’17 12:28

With 2.6 million visitors yearly, the number of errant plastic bags floating around could easily add up to many millions, with little or no decomposing for centuries. In the end, every errant bag ends up in the ocean. Do you think that the plastic bag manufacturers know this? Of course they do. Do we let them do this in the name of free markets? Looks like we do. That’s why we need a government and the scientific community to counter harmful corporate decisions and keep the citizenry informed. It’s very easy for free markets to spin out of control in seach for the quick dollar while intentionally or unintentionally committing irreputable harm. Only a hands-on government has the size and funding to act as a counter balance to corporations the size of small nations. Look at the opioid epidemic. The pill manufactuers know exactly what is going on because they know exactly how many pills they make. Do they try to fix things? No they don’t. They just want to make their quarter, and then they are applauded and rewarded for being such “successful leaders.” #RESIST

pussycat - 18-03-’17 17:44

they going to do what they want plastic bags are a waste they don’t hold nothing or the stuff is out of them before you get home they just fly around in the wind please keep paper bags dare county is trashed enough

local - 19-03-’17 12:12

Apparently, you’ve missed the memo(s) out of your hands-on government, leaving you ill-informed and operating on emotion instead of fact.

With 2.6 million visitors yearly, the number of errant plastic bags floating around could easily add up to many millions, with little or no decomposing for centuries. In the end, every errant bag ends up in the ocean. Do you think that the plastic bag manufacturers know this? Of course they do. Do we let them do this in the name of free markets? Looks like we do.

Biodegrading difficulties: Surprisingly, the EPA has stated that in landfills, paper doesn’t degrade all that much faster than plastics [source: Lilienfield

That’s why we need a government and the scientific community to counter harmful corporate decisions and keep the citizenry informed.

The EPA has admitted that not only is the question unresolved, but it doesn’t consider the use of plastic bags a major issue [source: Spivey].

It’s very easy for free markets to spin out of control in seach [SIC] for the quick dollar while intentionally or unintentionally committing irreputable [SIC] harm.

Causes pollution: Paper production emits air pollution, specifically 70 percent more pollution than the production of plastic bags [source: Thompson]. According to certain studies, manufacturing paper emits 80 percent more greenhouse gases [source: Lilienfield]. And, consider that making paper uses trees that, instead, could be absorbing carbon dioxide. The paper bag making process also results in 50 times more water pollutants than making plastic bags [source: Thompson].

Consumes energy: Even though petroleum goes into making plastic, it turns out that making a paper bag consumes four times as much energy as making a plastic bag, meaning making paper consumes a good deal of fuel [source:].

Consumes water: The production of paper bags uses three times the amount of water it takes to make plastic bags [source: Lilienfield].
Inefficient recycling: The process of recycling paper can be inefficient — often consuming more fuel than it would take to make a new bag [source: Milstein]. In addition, it takes about 91 percent more energy to recycle a pound of paper than a pound of plastic [source:].

Produces waste: According to some measures, paper bags generate 80 percent more solid waste [source: Lilienfield].
Biodegrading difficulties: Surprisingly, the EPA has stated that in landfills, paper doesn’t degrade all that much faster than plastics [source: Lilienfield

Only a hands-on government has the size and funding to act as a counter balance to corporations the size of small nations.

LOL! Do you mean the same hands-on government that banned incandescent bulbs in favor of mercury-filled CFL’s that are causing far more pollution than the banned versions?

Approximately 90 per cent of compact fluorescent light bulbs are being tossed in the trash, potentially contaminating the environment with mercury, CTV Toronto has learned.

According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, most consumers are not safely disposing the energy-efficient bulbs that contain approximately five milligrams of mercury each. The heavy metal has been shown to cause brain damage if inhaled or ingested.

Look at the opioid epidemic. The pill manufactuers know exactly what is going on because they know exactly how many pills they make. Do they try to fix things? No they don’t. They just want to make their quarter, and then they are applauded and rewarded for being such “successful leaders.” #RESIST

Non sequitur to this conversation.

Too many times, gov’t has a proven track record of knee-jerking their way into more environmental harm than leaving well enough alone.


Realityville - 20-03-’17 11:22

Let’s keep the ban on plastic bags, extend it to all of Dare County for fairness, and deal with the businesses (like Dollar General) that do not comply. If the paper bags cost more, I imagine the stores will pass that cost along to us. They always do. I think that an exception to plastic is for bagging meats that may leak. That still minimizes the problem. I do not shop at stores like Dollar General…..I vote with my purse. And Beverly, please keep in mind that I do vote. I meet a lot of the visiting public when I pick up trash on the beach or sound side, and when I nest-sit sea turtle nests…..I like to tell folks about our ban, and why.

Liz - 20-03-’17 18:48
Ray Midgett

Pussycat, Pumpkinboy, Diver531, Denny in Dayton, Dave, The Real Dave, etc…Honestly, How can any self respecting online news media take its readers comments seriously when they are made by people who hide behind trees, throw rocks, refuse to use their real name, etc. And, why should any elected official take them seriously? There is one person on another local site who has posted over 25,000 comments under such a fictitious name. Wow ! Just wow. At best, it’s entertaining, I guess.

Ray Midgett - 21-03-’17 22:11
Paper or reuseable

If packed with some thought, you can get what they pack in 4 plastic bags into ONE paper or reuseable bag.
The view while driving between RWS and Avon is much nicer now than it was 10 years ago when there was a plastic bag hanging off of every other bush.
Stay with paper or reuseable bags, please.

Paper or reuseable - 25-03-’17 05:06

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