Ty Fenton has a mission: to rid Chapel Hill of grocery bags.
Fenton is a member of the environmental honors fraternity at UNC, a group that wants to decrease the use of disposable grocery bags in the area by proposing a bag tax.
Epsilon Eta has introduced the idea of a tax on single-use grocery bags to the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“There are hundreds of things that we do which are wasteful, but using single-use bags is by far the most unnecessary one,” said Fenton, a senior environmental science major and the fraternity’s alumni chairman.
“It is incredibly easy to use a tote bag, or even reuse single-use paper or plastic bags, but it’s just something no one does because no one thinks about it.”
He said the group has contacted both Carrboro and Chapel Hill in the hopes that one, if not both towns, will like the idea. The fraternity, which Fenton said is the first and only group of its kind in the nation, sent a letter to the Chapel Hill Town Council earlier this month to present its ideas.
Their plan consists of a 5-cent tax on every disposable bag from the store used by a customer — both plastic and paper. By placing a price on the use of disposable bags, the fraternity wants to decrease use of them.
Council member Sally Greene said she thinks the idea is worth thinking about and encouraged the fraternity to seek a petition for the council to formally consider the idea.
“Environmental protection is critically important to the town and on the Town Council’s mind with every issue we discuss,” she said.
In a letter to the council, fraternity member Thomas Strayhorn said a similar bag tax in Washington, D.C. was very effective and managed to decrease disposable bag use in the city by 87 percent.
Both the town and the stores could potentially profit from the proposed bag tax.
Fenton said including the vendor in the proceeds from the tax has shown to be effective in Washington, where stores keep 20 percent of the collected fees.
“This encourages enforcement as vendors now have a reason to accurately report bag usage and enforce the tax,” Fenton said.
The fraternity’s proposed tax would only have a small impact on shoppers, he said.
The cost would amount to only 75 cents per shopping trip, or three dollars per month, for the average family.
Those who wish to avoid the tax could either use tote bags or reuse disposable bags. Within a year a $5 tote bag will have paid for itself seven times, Fenton said.
“Basically, the price is not to break the bank of someone who wants to use disposable bags, but simply make them think about it,” he said.
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