Apology not enough for some businesses on bag ban list

By on March 21, 2017

Marquee outside Whalebone Surf Shop in Nags Head. (Facebook)

Some local businesses that oppose a bill that would overturn the Outer Banks ban on plastic shopping bags say an apology issued by a statewide trade group isn’t enough for listing them in material recently distributed.

“People in other areas of the state are not aware of the uproar this has caused here locally, and we just appear to be supporters regardless of the heading,” said April Vaughn with Whalebone Surf Shop in Nags Head.

Vaughn is among a group of Outer Banks retailers that are against rolling back the prohibition on using the bags that dates to 2009. The bill was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Beverly Boswell (R-Dare).


Boutiques, independent grocers, variety stores and other surf shops from Corolla to Ocracoke have echoed Vaughn’s sentiments, while the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce issued a statement of opposition to reversing the ban on behalf of its 1,100 members.

Kill Devil Hills and Southern Shores have passed resolutions opposing the repeal. Commissioners in Nags Head and Dare County are also scheduled to vote on resolutions.

Whalebone offers thicker plastic bags that are allowed under the current law, as well as paper and woven reusables. But as a lot of retailers have noted since the proposal came out, many customers go without.

“When we get ready to bag the baggies, bikinis and tees, the response is ‘No, that’s OK. Don’t need a bag’,” Vaughn said.

Andy Ellen, president of the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, said the group was asked by state lawmakers to compile a list of retailers the ban covers.


That information was then sent out by Boswell’s office to some constituents showing why she supports the reversal.

A later version of the material had a different headline, noting that it was an initial listing of stores located in the area that might be affected by the plastic bag ban.

“The RMA should have contacted merchants up and down the Outer Banks and requested they be allowed to use their business names,” Vaughn said, echoing sentiments expressed by others since the information was distributed.


“Not only because of the assumption that we appeared to be supporters of the repeal, but that we were listed under their letterhead which also appeared as though we were members of RMA,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said she spoke on the phone with a staff member at the NCRMA.

Her husband, Whalebone Surf Shop founder Jim Vaughn, called Boswell’s office the day after the bill was submitted and has yet to hear back from her or her staff.

Ellen said that they listed the names of businesses that had to comply with the current ban, simply to provide research, and not to imply support or opposition to the proposed repeal.

House Bill 271 would roll back legislation initially instituted for larger retailers on the barrier islands from Corolla to Ocracoke in 2009 and then expanded to all businesses the following year.

It also required retailers to offer recyclable paper bags and to give at least a 5-cent rebate for each re-usable bag a customer provides.

The ban was championed by then-Senate leader Marc Basnight (D-Dare) as an effort to cut down on the use of the bags and promoted primarily as a way to keep the barrier islands’ beaches and waterways cleaner.

The repeal attempt appears to have significant support from the Republican leadership in the House, with majority leader John Bell, IV (R-Craven) and House deputy majority whip John Bradford III (R-Mecklenburg) joining Boswell as primary sponsors.

Boswell’s legislation is an almost mirror image of one introduced in the General Assembly in 2011 that eventually stalled out.

It also matches bills written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and backed by a petroleum industry group in other states that have tried to roll back or block bag bans.

Ellen said their group had been contacted by some stores in support of the repeal, which the group declined to release, and that the ban has been a burden on their businesses, and cost jobs.

“That’s the most ridiculous reason for bringing the flimsy bags back,” Vaughn said. “The paper, woven and high-end plastic bags are definitely more expense, but in reality it’s not the problem with most of our bottom lines.”

She noted that the ban did start during the Great Recession and most businesses had to look at cutting their expenses.

“Like changing the types of light bulbs to save on power bills, pull on a hoodie out of the racks to save on heat,” Vaughn said.

Having enough room in the building to house the paper bags during the summer was the only negative Vaughn could find, but that slight inconvenience is outweighed by the knowledge that plastic is more hazardous to the environment.

“Those thin, flimsy bags used to wind up in our culvert and shrubs when the grocery store was located behind the store,” Vaughn said. “Every morning we would have ritual cigarette butts and plastic bag removal.”

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