At their August 20 meeting, the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted by a narrow 4-3 margin against a resolution that would have encouraged the North Carolina General Assembly to examine a statewide ban on plastic straws by the year 2020.
The proposed measure stemmed from a resolution by the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church Youth, which brought up the topic at their annual conference in Fayetteville, N.C.
“During the conference this year, the [UMC] Youth discussed some current events in daily legislative affairs, and they forwarded me a copy of a resolution that they adopted at their conference calling for a statewide ban on non-biodegradable plastic straws,” said Commissioner Chairman Woodard.
“As a request, they asked if we would consider a similar resolution that we would send to our legislators… The County Clerk prepared a resolution for us, and it pretty much mirrored their resolution,” he said, noting that the BOC would only be asking the North Carolina General Assembly to call for a statewide ban on the plastic straws, and to adopt appropriate legislation.
The resolution, which was read to the BOC by County Manager Bobby Outten, stated that because Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day, and because plastic straws are not recyclable and instead degrade into smaller micro-plastics per the Washington Post, plastic straws should be banned in the state of North Carolina. The resolution also noted that plastic had been found in the stomachs of roughly 71% of sea birds and 30% of sea turtles, and that other communities and states including New York City, Hawaii, New Jersey, and California had already begun the process of banning plastic straws.
Vice Chairman Wally Overman pointed out that voting for the resolution would be in line with what the BOC had supported in the past when it came to the subject of plastics. “This board, in the past several months, supported the plastic bag ban that we had in Dare County… Voting against this resolution would be somewhat contrary to [what] we did previously,” he said.
Overman also praised the youth organization for their activism and efforts – a sentiment that was echoed by the other commissioners.
“In a few short years, my generation is going to be out of the way, and it’s going to be up to these kids to run the world,” said Commissioner Danny Couch. “And if this is what it takes to start the conversation, no matter where it leads, I’m all for it,”
However, several commissioners voiced concerns that banning plastic straws would not put much of a dent in a global problem, and that more research was required before tackling the topic.
“I’m generally opposed to pollution in all its many forms. I did, however, take a moment to do some research and do the math… and found that there are approximately nine million tons of plastic in the oceans each year, which is astronomical,” said Commissioner Rob Ross. “Of that nine million, two thousand tons were attributed in the study to straws – plastic and otherwise… [That] amounts to .02 percent of the total.”
“Are we putting enormous emphasis or focus on something that, even if it was completely successful, would have a miniscule effect on the problem?” asked Commissioner Ross.
Ross did note that, on the whole, he was not opposed to a potential ban, but that he did want to see a little more research on the topic.
“I personally feel that it’s a litter problem, and not a straw problem,” said Commissioner Steve House. “I truly support using less single-use plastics, but I don’t think a formal ban on the subject is the way to go about it. I think it’s more of a public effort to be mindful of the waste that you are using, and to be proactive in your own mind to stop using [plastic straws.]”
Commissioner House also noted that plastic straws could potentially be recycled, citing an example of an Australian company that engaged in the practice by transforming straws into other materials. He also voiced concern that a request to the General Assembly would ultimately be successful.
“I don’t think they have the support in Raleigh to place a ban on plastic straws,” said Commissioner House.
Chairman Bob Woodard, Vice Chairman Wally Overman, and Hatteras Island Commissioner Danny Couch voted Yes on the proposed resolution, with Rob Ross, Jack Shea, Jim Tobin and Steve House casting the majority No votes.