Sen. Marc Basnight had a really good idea.
And then he had an even better idea.
Several weeks ago, Basnight, a Manteo Democrat who is President Pro Tempore of the state Senate, gathered some community leaders at his family?s restaurant, The Lone Cedar Caf? on the Manteo Causeway.
Basnight was rallying support for a bill that would impose a 10- to 25-cent fee on most types of plastic and paper bags.
His stated purpose was to clean up the Outer Banks ? get the unsightly, flimsy, ubiquitous plastic bags off the roadways and dunes and out of the waterways.
The bill, he said, would be a local bill, applying only to Dare, Hyde, and Currituck counties ? at least to start ? which would make it easier to get through the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor.
Apparently, Basnight got support at the meeting from local officials.
It?s a great idea.
We?ve all seen those bags everywhere along Highway 12, a scenic byway. They hang from trees, bushes, and from the lovely sea oats on the dunes. They blow around and deteriorate from the sun. They not only mar the beauty of the seashore but can also be a danger to wildlife.
Some of the bags, no doubt, are tossed out by people who litter. Others blow out of the back of pickup trucks ? or even out of the tops of Dare County?s garbage trucks. I?ve seen the bags blowing out of the trucks, though not in the last couple years since the county started garbage pickup in the dark, early morning hours.
However, I wondered why charge for plastic? Why not just ban it outright?
And that is what Basnight has now proposed ? apparently because some local politicians thought charging for the bags amounted to a tax. But who cares why?
The latest version of the bill, which passed the Senate yesterday by a vote of 47-1, is an outright ban on the use of the flimsy plastic bags.
?According to estimates, retailers provide 10-20 million plastic bags each year in Dare, Currituck, and Hyde counties,? according to a media release from Basnight?s office, ?most of which end up in landfills or littering coastal area. Discarded plastic bags contribute to overburdened landfills, threaten wildlife and marine life, degrade the beaches and other natural landscapes of North Carolina’s coast, and, in many cases, require consumption of oil and natural gas during the manufacturing process. The Outer Banks, which host millions of visitors each year, are one of the state?s most environmentally-sensitive areas.?
The bill would apply only to retail outlets more than 5,000 square feet or those that are part of a retail chain with five or more stores in the state.
Each store would display a sign saying that the county discourages the single-use of bags to protect the environment. Shoppers who don?t have a reusable bag would be offered a bag made of 100 percent recycled paper. The ban would not apply to the plastic used for fresh meat, poultry, seafood, and produce.
In a story in today?s Virginian-Pilot, Basnight said that weaning the public from the plastic bags and promoting the use of reusable bags might restore some of the ?cleanness? to the Outer Banks.
?I felt like it might set us apart ? in a good way,? he said in the article. ?We?re getting a lot of attention.?
Indeed, if the bill passes the House and is signed by the governor, it would put North Carolina in the forefront of the movement to remove single-use plastic bags from the environment.
San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007, and several cities and states are contemplating a ban.
Many retail stores are offering reusable bags that can be purchased there or allow bags purchased elsewhere and carried into the store.
Conner?s Supermarket in Buxton has reusable bags ? green ones ? for $1. I purchased four last year. The hardest part is remembering to bring them to the store with you. I try to remember to put them right back in my vehicle as soon as I unpack groceries. I also have a cloth bag I purchased from the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation. Other stores and shops on the island offer their own versions of the reusable bags for a nominal fee.
The bags are very easy to use and make it easier to carry in your purchases than carrying fists full of the flimsy plastic bags, which I have had split apart on my way into the house with the groceries.
We should all celebrate Basnight?s leadership on this issue.
The Outer Banks is a good place to start ? a sort of pilot project.
However, soon the ban should be imposed statewide and all retailers should be required to participate.
If approved by the House and signed by the governor, the bill would become effective on Sept. 1.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The full text of the legislation: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2009/BillDocuments/Senate/PDF/S1018v1-PCS85223.pdf