Plastic bag ban revisited

by Laura Fitzgerald
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Hanover County Commissioner Jason Thompson revived discussion of a countywide bag ban during a joint meeting of commissioners and Town of Wrightsville Beach Aldermen on Friday, June 8.

The subject of a countywide bag ban was introduced during a joint meeting of the same governing bodies more than a year ago. Previously, then alderwoman Lisa Weeks had broached the subject with Thompson. (See related story page 1.)

Although plastic bags are convenient and cost-effective, environmental activists question the environmental impact involved in their use.

Sean Ahlum, founder of the Surfrider Foundationís Cape Fear Chapter, supports a ban of plastic bags in New Hanover County.

"Plastic is a wasteful part of society because plastic bags are used for, at most, 20 minutes and then thrown away, causing so many issues," said Ahlum, who said he has sent multiple letters and emails to Senator Thom Goolsby, New Hanover County District 9. Goolsby has said he would repeal a plastic bag ban enacted in Dare County in 2010.

Dare County consumers and residents have vocally supported the ban, but Ahlum believes Senator Goolsby is mostly concerned about the potential for lost revenue. Senator Goolsbyís office replied with no comment at this time.

Ahlum, a Wrightsville Beach resident and a member of the University of North Carolina Wilmingtonís administration, is joined in the argument for a plastic bag ban by author David Gessner, also a Wrightsville Beach resident and a UNCW faculty member.

Gessner, a creative writing professor who has published eight books, including "A Wild, Rank Place: One Year on Cape Cod" and "My Green Manifesto" favors a plastic bag ban.

A birdwatcher, Gessner said he knows the danger that plastics pose to birds that often mistakenly ingest plastic as food. Doing so results in a slow death. Because ridding the environment of plastic bags would help the life expectancy of birds, he supports a plastic bag ban. He believes consumerism is the reason why it has taken the United States so long to begin talking about a ban ó that as a society we do not respond until it is economically necessary.

For the last 20 years, Gessner has been referred to as an environmentalist. He now wants to broaden the definition of what that means and its impact. It has to start with a place you love, he said.

"I fell in love with Cape Cod as a kid and I have fought to protect it. I think the missing leg is people tend to think environmentalists are all about rules and itís not. Itís about connecting with a place," he said.

Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti understands there are different ways of dealing with plastic and hopes to one day see it all gone. For now, Cignotti said he supports the countyís decisions.

"There are certain things not beneficial from plastic. I look at plastic like I look at glass bottles in terms of taking better care of our environment. I donít think this issue is just in Wrightsville Beachís hands, though, I think itís in the countyís hands as well," Cignotti said.

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