Big box stores silent on move to repeal plastic bag ban

By on April 20, 2017

The ban started July 1, 2009. (Craig Abraham, The Age)

Two bills introduced into the state legislature in the 2017 session have some residents wondering who is behind a move to lift an almost eight-year-old ban on the use of plastic bag by retail stores along the Outer Banks.

Speculation at first focused on state Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, acting on her own, as those close to her said she cited the cost to local merchants, especially big box stores, as a primary reason for her opposition.

Boswell has not answered queries about why she introduced her bill, and by the time Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, joined the fray on March 30, speculation turned to one of two groups that had opposed the legislation ever since its introduction and passage in 2009 — the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association and the American Chemistry Council.

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In 2009, when the General Assembly passed a ban on the use of plastic bags by retail stores, few thought the issue would ever come back, although at the time support for the legislation was far from universal among residents, visitors and business concerns.

But over time, support for banning plastic bags seems to have teken hold, and for some, the ban became a source of local pride.

A 2014 Coastal Review Online story, Five years later, ban on plastic bags has become a way of life, that was reposted on the Voice documented that business and consumers had become used to the switch to paper and reusable bags. It cited the failure of a bill to repeal the ban in the 2011 General Assembly as evidence such a repeal was unlikely.

This year, the situation is vastly different, and a repeal of the ban appears to have a better-than-even chance of being passed.

The first move took place on March 7, when Boswell, who represents two counties covered by the ban — Dare and Hyde counties filed H271, “Repeal Plastic Bag Ban” along with two other legislators as a primary sponsor.

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Rep. Bob Steinberg, whose district includes, Currituck, the third county affected by the bill, has said he is opposed to the legislation and will vote against it if it makes it to the floor.

On the Senate side, Cook is one of three primary sponsors of S539, the “Environmental Regulatory Reform Act of 2017,” which includes a repeal of the ban along with several other changes to state environmental regulations.

As soon as H271 was filed, political, business and other leaders began asking why the legislation was introduced.

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There had been no overt calls in the community asking for the repeal of the ban, and in fact, the lead business organization in the area, The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, reacted within six days, sending a letter to Boswell and 19 other representatives asking her to reconsider her sponsorship and support of the repeal.

Inquiries to Boswell’s office went unanswered, leaving the why and who behind the legislation subject to speculation.

The N.C. Retail Merchants Associatio seemed the more likely force as it had supplied Boswell a list of Outer Banks merchants the organization said were affected by the ban, including non-members, which Boswell released to the public.

On April 4, calls and e-mails were put out to the corporate offices of Food Lion, Harris-Teeter, Lowe’s and the Retail Merchants Association.

An inquiry to Cook led to a referral by his legislative aide, Jordan Hennesey, to the Retail Merchants Association.

A message with Courtney James at Food Lion’s Salisbury, N.C. office asking if Food Lion was supporting the legislation or had requested that the bill be introduced was not returned.

Danna Robinson, Harris-Teeter’s communication manager in the chain’s Mattews, N.C. home office, said the company did not respond to verbal requests and asked for questions to be sent by e-mail. Robinson acknowkedged receipt of questions sent April 4 but no reponse has followed.

Voicemail left with a Lowe’s corporate media relations person did not receive a reply. Followup calls and e-mails to the chains drew no responses.

The only repy came from Andy Ellen, president and general counsel for the Retail Merchants Association.

Ellen said the RMA had definitely contacted legislators, including Boswell and Cook, among others to as for the repeal.
Ellen said this had been a goal and a regular request since 2009, and while he would not name specific members who had asked the RMA take such action, he did say the real problem was a “litter and education problem” and that “we had a lot of large and small retailers” among the membership asking for repeal.

In a video interview Boswell recently posted, she used the same language, “this is a litter problem” as the RMA in opposing the ban.

The RMA also provided an op-ed piece to the Voice stating their side of the issue, which can be found here.

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