This week, Carolina Journal’s Brooke Conrad reported on a proposed bag ban in Durham. According to Conrad:

In Durham, that city’s Environmental Advisory Board recently endorsed the idea of charging 10 cents for every plastic and paper bag customers carry out of stores. The proposal came from Don’t Waste Durham, a grass-roots group that, its website says, “creates solutions that prevent trash.” Several City Council committees and the full council would have to approve the fee before it takes effect.

The proposal has been controversial. Conrad reports the ban has raised questions about its constitutionality:

Andy Ellen, president and general counsel for the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, says the fee is akin to a tax, and he points to a constitutional provision giving the General Assembly — not local governments — sole authority to levy taxes.

…Michelle Nowlin is co-director of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University School of Law. Nowlin, who presented research to the Durham EAB before it approved the proposal, rejects the unconstitutionality claim. She says the proposal would pass legally under the Waste Management Act, which grants generous authority to local governments regarding waste control.

The ban has many purported benefits, Conrad writes:

Nowlin and other advocates laud bag restrictions because they correlate with less plastic litter on streets and in streams. The measure also saves money at recycling facilities, she said, because the plastic won’t gum up the conveyor belts.

According to JLF’s Jon Sanders, though, there are many considerations for bag bans that are often ignored:

For one thing, people don’t necessarily throw away their “single use” plastic bags after the first use. People use them for garbage or dog waste. With a prohibitive fee or ban, people have to buy more store-bought garbage bags, which are usually made of thicker plastic and are more harmful to the environment. 

Reusable cloth bags also come with their own problems, Sanders said. A Danish study shows it would take 7,100 reuses of a regular cotton bag to exceed the environmental impact of a single plastic bag reuse.

Cloth bags also tend to carry bacteria, which can lead to illness: imagine leaking a package of raw chicken into a reusable bag and forgetting to wash it before placing fresh produce in it on the next grocery trip.

study by the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that reusable bags are rarely washed, and most of them contain large amounts of bacteria. The researchers found coliform bacteria in half of the bags and e. Coli in 12%. 

Read the full article here. Learn more about environmental initiatives in North Carolina here.