On February 7, over 60 students, faculty and staff from various academic departments at UNC Greensboro (UNCG) took time to listen to the progress that Dr. Nancy Lauer of Duke University Law and Policy Clinic is making on reducing single-use bags in Durham, NC. This lecture was the second event of the Spring 2020 Harriett Elliott Lecture Series (HELS) and didn’t disappoint in providing hope to the rest of the state that plastic use can be mitigated.
Lauer walked the crowd through the process that her lab has taken to understand the issues that plastic pollution causes on the local environment. She focused on how best to approach limits on single-use plastics.
This initial project started in January 2019, when the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic began representing a local nonprofit, Don’t Waste Durham, whose mission is to implement solutions that reduce waste at its source. In this effort, Don’t Waste Durham and the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic have been working to understand the environmental and economic implications of single-use items and to develop policy strategies that encourage our community to reduce its single-use footprint.
By working with the Duke engineering department, students were able to design a trash collection system for local Durham streams that provided a snapshot of the pollution in them. The data allowed us to see that while all types of trash are found in the dozen or so streams that were monitored, plastic was the predominant waste type.
Lauer then discussed the hurdles that her team must overcome to create a local ordinance limiting single-use plastics. Lauer reviewed the issues around a potential state ban and the national history of such bans. Ultimately, her team decided that promoting a ban would be less productive than imposing a fee. She presented a map of states that had preemptively signed legislation to prevent bans, which caused a stir among the geographers in the room.
The progress that Lauer’s department has made in proposing a 10-cent fee on single-use bags is a promising step to limiting the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and in our environment. This is the first step for a city in North Carolina to limit or ban a single use plastic. I hope this is an effort that spreads throughout the state.
Article by Nathan A. Rector, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Sustainability. His research interests include the effects of climate change on the Himalayan Gangotri glacier and how that impacts the Hindu culture.