Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord has asked city staff for information about taxing plastic bags. Carolina Journal’s Dan Way has the story of what may be coming to capital city shoppers.

Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord raised the possibility of a nickel or dime tax on plastic bags in a June 18 query to the City Manager’s Office. Gaylord asked whether a “rational nexus” existed to charge a nickel or dime per bag to raise money for stream cleanup.

“The council hasn’t asked us to take any action on this,” said Dan Howe, assistant city manager. “Mr. Gaylord asked for some information on where this is taking place, and how it works, and we provided that information, and that’s pretty much where it’s sitting right now.” City Council next meets Tuesday at 1 p.m.

Gaylord said family matters prevented him from keeping a scheduled interview for this story. In the city’s e-mail response to Gaylord’s query, Howe said the Solid Waste Services Department has discussed the matter.

Attached to Howe’s e-mail was a list compiled by the Earth Policy Institute of 172 local governments representing some 20 million Americans where plastic bag bans or taxes are in effect.

The Outer Banks already bans plastic bags, so what is the impact? Dan asked Andy Ellen of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association.

A study by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources “has shown no decline in plastic bags found on the beaches or in that area, but what you have seen is a tremendous increase in costs to the retailers, which ultimately get passed on to the consumers,” Ellen said. Those include higher costs for paper vs. plastic bags.

Merchants also had to update cash register software at their own expense to account for the reusable bag rebate, and chain stores must adjust their bookkeeping systems to account for differences unique to their Outer Banks stores, Ellen said. One retailer paid more than $40,000 to adjust its computer software while issuing only two reusable bag credits the first year.

Retail Merchants Association surveys of members on the Outer Banks found “less than 3 percent or 4 percent of the transactions actually involved someone bringing in a reusable bag to a grocery store, even after all the publicity and hype,” Ellen said. And visitors continue to bring plastic bags from elsewhere. Merchants believe recycling is a better option, he said, and where recycling bins are set up they “are overflowing.”

Stay tuned. Carolina Journal is following this story very closely.