The Repeal of the Plastic Bag Ban – What’s Happening and What’s Next? - Shooting The Breeze


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Goodbye, Frisco Pier | Home | What Can be Done with…

The Repeal of the Plastic Bag Ban – What’s Happening and What’s Next?

Friday 03 November 2017 at 9:21 pm.


It’s been a month since the plastic bag ban on the Outer Banks was repealed by the North Carolina General Assembly, and a number of retailers on the Outer Banks have been in a bit of a self-imposed holding pattern on what to do next.

The plastic bag ban was a subtle part of a larger environmental bill, House Bill 56, which was passed by the General Assembly in August, but which was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper. On October 4, during a special session of the General Assembly, the veto was overridden with a House vote of 70-44 and a Senate vote of 30-9.

Once that occurred, grocery stores and chain retailers were free to re-introduce plastic bags at their Outer Banks locations, but the change back to plastic has been gradual, with a bit of backlash along the way.

As a little background, the plastic bag ban repeal went into effect in 2009 by then then-Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight of Dare County. It was an effort to reduce litter on the beaches, as well as to protect sea turtles which often mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish - one of their favorite local food sources.

There were certainly loopholes to the original law. Durable plastic bags with handles that were at least 2.25 mils thick, and which were specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse, were allowed. And stores that had less than 5,000 square feet of retail or wholesale space, as well as less than five stores in the state of North Carolina, were exempt. (You can see the full and original 2009 bill here: But after a while of getting used to the bulky paper bags, the bill became a way of life for roughly eight years.

The repeal was originally introduced in early 2017 in another bill, House Bill 271, by newly elected Representative Boswell. And once a potential repeal of the 2009 ban was on the table, backlash and controversy followed an otherwise forgotten topic.

Local organizations including the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) and the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce publically spoke out against the repeal, and a number of citizens commented on the issue at BOC meetings.

“The feeling of the board, and the reflection of the community, is that we got in a position where [using paper bags] became habit,” says Hatteras Island Commissioner Danny Couch. “We do so little for the environment, that it was a small thing to ask.”

“It’s known science how harmful these bags are to wildlife, and it’s taken a long time to get people oriented to [using paper bags], and all of a sudden we repeal it,” he adds. “I think it was short sighted and irrelevant.”

Indeed, prior to March 2017, no one was really gunning for a repeal of the plastic bag ban, but once it occurred, it was championed by several statewide organizations - most notably the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.

The issue of allowing plastic bags clearly stoked tensions and frustration on both sides, and now that it’s done, the big question is what will businesses – and the community – do next.

On Hatteras Island, Conner’s Supermarket in Buxton has reported that it will continue to use paper bags, and as of mid-October, the Food Lion headquarters was still evaluating whether they would bring plastic bags back into local Outer Banks stores.

"We are reviewing any potential changes to the bags we offer in our stores, and continue to encourage customers at every opportunity to use reusable shopping bags," said a Food Lion headquarters associate.

Up the beach, however, there’s been more action.

The Harris Teeter in Kill Devil Hills began using plastic bags, while a photo taken at the Kitty Hawk Walmart which seemed to suggest that plastic bags were not going to be used went viral on local social media. (Walmart declined to comment on whether they will use plastic bags for this story.)

But it’s a tough decision for local businesses on whether to use plastic bags, and face backlash, or to continue to just use paper bags, and also likely face backlash.

One thing is certain. If paper bags are going to continue to be the norm, then it’s going to be up to the businesses - and the community - to make it so.

“It’s called the Dillon Rule,” says Couch. “The state makes the rules and it trickles down, where we as a county have to implement what the state says. Because this is a state rule, we cannot do anything on a county level to countermand it.”

“Could there be a county initiative along the lines of Outer Banks Catch? I’m sure there probably could be,” he says. “If it comes from a citizen initiative, I would do my best to represent it on a county level. I personally would like to see it.”

It’s tricky to determine how this citizen initiative would form, considering that Hatteras Island is a part of unincorporated Dare County, but Kill Devil Hills has set an example of how this could look.

According to an Oct. 31 article in the Outer Banks Sentinel, the Kill Devil Hills Board of Commissioners agreed to send a letter to local retailers asking that they continue to honor the plastic bag ban despite the N.C. General Assembly’s repeal of the measure. And Kill Devil Hills Mayor Sheila Davies suggested creating a larger task force, noting that it wasn’t just a town issue – it was an Outer Banks-wide issue.

In addition, the Outer Banks Sentinel reported that Ivy Ingram, an official of the Outer Banks Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, told the commissioners that her group had recently bought the domain name for a website that would serve as an educational tool, and which would list the retailers that remain plastic bag free.

So if the community overwhelmingly wanted to keep paper bags in area stores, and reached out to retail chain headquarters, it’s possible that in today’s era of social media monitoring, it could make an impact.

“If you want to forego the money you’d save with plastic bags, and go with the will of the people, you can make a big and really positive statement,” says Couch.

There’s also the possibility of accepting that plastic bags will inevitably return, and orchestrating more educational and clean-up campaigns to address potential litter problems.

The North Carolina Beach Buggy Association (NCBBA) is a great example of how community outreach can help educate the public.

The NCBBA has regularly hosted beach clean-ups every year, and even worked with the National Park Service and local businesses this past summer to create an island-wide “Pack it In, Pack it Out” campaign, which spread the word island-wide. (You have likely seen their distinctive brown signs at literally every beach access on the island.)

Initiating more public education on the dangers of litter in a wild environment like the Outer Banks is a good option for proponents of the repeal, who have a valid point when they argue that customers can always opt to bring their own bags, and / or ask for paper versus plastic. Repeal proponents also rightly point out that in the end, the stores that are most affected by not permitting the cheaper plastic bags aren’t the big box retailers, but the smaller local operations that have to pinch pennies to stay in business.

There are strong voices and points on both sides of the issue for sure. But one thing that everyone agrees on is that nobody wants to see plastic bags on the beach.

And it does stand to reason that introducing more plastic bags in big grocery stores will likely lead to more plastic bags in the environment.

“We had a good 10-year stretch where you might have seen a bag every now and then,” says Couch. “Today, [driving on the island], I counted 9 bags in the ditches.”

“And it will get worse. The more they come back in, the more you’re going to see them.”

But whether the next step will be reaching out to stores individually to keep the bag ban in place, or orchestrating more clean-ups and litter campaigns, will essentially be up to the community to decide.

nine comments

paul meadow

Our elected state representative, Beverly Boswell, co-sponsored this hideous bag repeal bill against virtually every one of her constituents, Republican, Democrat and Independent. You can voice your disapproval of her selling us down the river by calling her at 919-733-5906. It’s time to give her a piece of her mind until we drive this turncoat out of office next election. 919 733 5906.

paul meadow - 03-11-’17 21:52

Before the ban, we used to call them “Bag Birds”. There were so many bags caught in the bushes along the highway you’d see fluttering and think there was some bird to see. It didn’t take long after the ban for the length of the highway to rid itself of the trash and the island took on a whole new look. A much better look for visitors. Now with the potential of the return of the Bag Birds, I’m afraid that our views are going to be lost again. The county can’t countermand a State Law, but the county can implement laws which tighten up a State Law. Dare County needs to pass an ordinance which requires any establishment that opts into using the plastic bag again be required to have their name, location and phone number imprinted on the bag. That way when we find such trash along the road and beaches we can pick it up and return it, or even make a conscious decision not to visit such an establishment who apparently doesn’t have much concern for our environment, wildlife and views.

Jack - 04-11-’17 15:14
Christine Hunsicker

I am hoping the stores continue using paper bags. I come to Hatteras on vacation and love it that paper bags are used.

Christine Hunsicker - 04-11-’17 17:38

How the heck did this get through without the eagle eyed EPA groups not picking it up ?? I know it was part of another bill but still , just amazes me that MZ.Boswell likes driving the highways and sitting on the beach’s watching plastic bags roll by or as Jack said viewing the pretty “bag Birds” . Sometimes I just don’t get it .

diver531 - 07-11-’17 16:48
Rick Shaftan

This silly bag ban was the only thing about the OBX I didn’t like. Now it’s gone and I can fit all my groceries in the front seat and carry them all up in one trip. No more double-bagging and a house full of paper bags I have to burn.

How many of the “environmentalists” who support this ban use equally thin plastic garbage bags? This isn’t about the environment, it’s about people who need something to whine about.

Rick Shaftan - 12-11-’17 00:45
Rick Shaftan

Elections have consequences. The leftwing environmentalist candidates endorsed by groups backing this ban lost. People who don’t like Beverly Boswell’s legislation can vote for her liberal opponent in next year’s election.

Rick Shaftan - 12-11-’17 00:47
paul meadow

You got this one wrong. Everybody’s sick of the bag birds. Nothing political there. But what’s really political is that Beverly co-sponsored a bill that virtually everyone along the outer banks were against. Beverly knew this well yet she went against what virtually everone wanted.
We voted this Dare County resident into office and then she didn’t support what everone wanted. Bottom line: this elected official can not be trusted. Elect another republican, democrat, independent…just not someone who went against her own county’s wishes.

paul meadow - 14-11-’17 03:03
Denny in Dayton

If any of you had paid attention you would have noticed that most of the bags blew out of garbage trucks going up and down the highway with their lids open. Why not start there?

Never mind, pass something that feels good instead of being effective.

Denny in Dayton - 22-11-’17 04:21
Paul Meadow

Closing garbage truck lids versus banning plastic bags is not a binary decision. Do both. The rest is just political malarkey based on social constructs from a group trying their best to hold back time and obstruct continuous change—all based on an imaginary and falsely romantic past. Truth be told, progress and change always finds a way, whether its about immigration, conservation or plastic bird bags. Closing trash truck lids and banning plastic bags will both be effective AND feel good. Now how’s that for a little trash talk? Besides, Beverly Boswell went against the overwhelming majority of her constituents. She can’t be trusted and will never again be trusted in Dare County.

Paul Meadow - 05-12-’17 04:30

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