Proposed charge for single-use bags in Durham on pause after state budget limits local action

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – The new state budget could stop North Carolina cities and towns from being able to ban plastic bags and crack down on shopping cart vandalism.

Thursday, Durham City Council was set to consider an ordinance that would require businesses to charge 10 cents per bag. It would have also banned plastic utensils for dine-in use.

However, a new provision in the state budget prohibits municipalities from making rules that “Restrict, tax, charge a fee, prohibit, or otherwise regulate the use, disposition, or sale of an auxiliary container.”

It also stops cities and towns from being able to regulate the use of shopping carts, or fine businesses for retrieving carts left elsewhere.

Michelle Nowlin, with Duke’s Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, presented the proposal to reduce plastic waste before Durham City Council Thursday afternoon.

“It’s really important for cities to be able to take action to reduce waste in their communities because they have the primary responsibility for managing waste,” Nowlin said.

Under the new budget, if passed as is, Nowlin said the city won’t be able to create any restrictive ordinance. However, she says it doesn’t stop local businesses from creating their own rules surrounding single-use plastics.

“Most of it gets trucked to a landfill. There are a lot of environmental and public health harms associated with living next to a landfill, and so we would like to reduce the impacts on those communities,” Nowlin said. “[Cities] can create incentive programs to encourage businesses to take voluntary measures.”