Local Politics

Durham residents could soon be charged for single-use plastic bags

Posted October 11, 2021 10:43 p.m. EDT
Updated October 12, 2021 9:00 a.m. EDT

— Durham residents could soon be charged extra for using a single-use, plastic bag. The 10 cent tax would apply to restaurants, grocery stores, drugstores, retailers and more.

Duke Law Clinic, which is presenting the proposal to Durham City Council on Tuesday, said many businesses would be on board with the tax. The clinic added that the hope is more consumers will switch to reusable bags.

The clinic has been looking at the impacts of single-use plastic bags in Durham for about four years.

"We are proposing a minimum 10 cent fee on all single-use bags," said Michelle Nowlins, a clinical professor of law at Duke University.

Duke Law Clinic will ask council members to pass an ordinance where customers will be charged 10 cents per single-use bag when checking out at a store to reduce the amount of plastic waste in Durham.

"When government acts to ban or assess a fee for the use of plastic bags, businesses tend to go to other single-use items -- either thicker bags or paper bags," said Nowlins.

But some Durham residents said the tax is needless.

"It's not that much, but at the same time, it's an additional cost, which doesn't seem necessary. It kind of seems like an unnecessary cost," said Carson Blount.

Don't Waste Durham is a group that creates solutions to prevent trash buildup. The group's executive director, Crystal Dreisbach, said the 10 cent bag proposal will help unclog storm drains that have caused the city expensive flooding issues.

Annually, the costs associated with single-use plastic bags for the city of Durham is more than $86,000, according to data from Duke Law Clinic.

"Recycling corporations, like Sonoco, who receive all of Durham's recycling, call plastic bags tanglers. They tangle in machines and cause a lot of additional costs," said Dreisbach.

The North Carolina Solid Waste Management Act gives local governments leeway to adopt their own waste management program as long as it includes reducing the amount of waste.

Nowlins said Duke Law Clinic surveyed businesses across Durham County on whether they would support the 10 cent tax. Around 80 percent of businesses said they were either in favor or didn't oppose it.

"I think businesses are actually on board with this," said Nowlins. "Consumers are hungry for some sort of push to address waste problems in the community. Nobody wants to live in a trashed environment."

Duke Law Clinic will present the proposal at 9 a.m. on Tuesday during Durham's joint city council meeting.

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