Raleigh should ban, or charge for plastic bags

July 6, 2014 

Bonner Gaylord says he’s not sold on the idea yet, but he thinks it’s worth a look. It’s worth more than that. The Raleigh City Council member should endorse the idea of the city imposing a fee on plastic bags, and all his council mates should join him.

But it’s only a good first step. The city ought to ban plastic bags, which wreak environmental havoc, period.

The bags tend to be recklessly disposed of, which means they clog industrial drains and create untold amounts of litter that crowds landfills. They can be not just annoying but dangerous for animals and small children, and they hang around for decades.

And anyone who has traveled North Carolina’s roadsides can testify to seeing plastic bags blowing around everywhere.

Convenience was the catchword when plastic bags came into fashion. Gradually the folks at the local grocery store were handing customers, instead of one fairly heavyweight paper bag, five small plastic bags that often break on the shortest of walks. For a while, the question was, “Paper or plastic?” Then plastic was the automatic choice, and the question in many places faded from view.

When a businessman whispered to recent college grad Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate” that “plastics” were the future, it was true. And plastics are a wonder. But the world, and that includes Raleigh, needs to acknowledge that in the form of grocery bags, plastics have become a problem.

Other cities have recognized that and put a fee on plastic bags to discourage their use or banned them, period.

In Chicago, advocates of an approved ban with an initial target of big-box grocery stores said that nearly 4 million bags were used every day in that city. Worldwide, it’s estimated that up to a trillion plastic bags are used every day, and the United States does its part with more than a third of those.

Arguments against the idea here likely would be similar to those in other cities, first among them that a ban on plastic bags would create a hardship for retailers and might not be too popular with customers.

But time and again around the country, initial doubts have been overcome. Months after a ban or a fee – usually 5 or 10 cents a bag – has gone into effect, people not only are pleased but often very pleased.

Gaylord brought this up but hesitated to offer a full-throated endorsement, which is OK. But the policy wouldn’t be unique to North Carolina. The bags have already been banned in coastal areas for obvious reasons.

In Raleigh, it’s not hard to “go green” at the grocery store. Most stores offer reusable bags for sale at a price around a dollar. They hold more, have handles that don’t tear and break, and can easily be carried to the store every time. Most people who choose them are sorry they waited as long as they did.

And in Gaylord’s thinking, if a fee were imposed, the money could go toward environmental cleanup of one kind or another.

This is not revolutionary. It has been tested, and it has succeeded. There is no valid reason for Raleigh not to at least start with a fee and then move toward a ban over a reasonable period of time, six months to year.

Gaylord can feel comfortable even now leading the way on his idea.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service