The Coastal Conservation League is working with partners on several initiatives designed to reduce plastic pollution in our state.
In spite of decades of messages from anti-litter campaigns, litter continues to be a major environmental concern, threatening water quality, human health, and wild life, as well as creating unsightly road and waterways.
Recent studies in Charleston waters reveal the presence of microfibers in a variety of marine life, including oysters, one of Charleston’s signature seafood items. It is estimated that seven tons of microplastics are currently in our harbor.
The impacts of plastic bag use are serious. If inappropriately recycled, they destroy machinery at municipal recycling facilities or degrade municipal compost. If littered, they strangle marine species, or break down into tiny fragments of plastic that infiltrate our waterways and work through food webs, including the diets of humans.
Further, the waste picture in the Pacific and Atlantic becomes clearer, and more alarming, every month. We know that there is essentially a smog of plastic in each ocean. Marine life from across the spectrum, from microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain, to pelagic birds like albatross, to dolphins and whales, are ingesting these toxic materials.
The Charleston region is working to make waste management as progressive as possible, but the simple fact is that we all must reduce our waste. Reusing and recycling are not enough. Think of all of the recent debates over where to site new recycling facilities, and where to expand landfills. Then think of the population increases our region faces. We cannot continue to produce and use at our current rate, and so we must take steps to reduce our waste now.
At the local level, we are working on implementation of municipal single-use plastic bag bans. The City of Isle of Palms is the first municipality in the state of South Carolina to implement a municipal-wide ban on single-use plastic bags at point of sale. Our coalition members pushed the initiative on social media and through action alerts, led by concerned citizens.
For several years, we have interviewed business owners in the City of Folly Beach about the impacts of a potential single-use plastic bag ban. The Folly Association of Businesses and Folly council members took up the cause, and unanimously passed two ordinances. The first bans single-use plastic bags, polystyrene (Styrofoam) coolers, and polystyrene to-go containers at point of sale within Folly’s municipal boundaries. The second ordinance bans single-use plastic bags, polystyrene (Styrofoam) coolers, polystyrene to-go containers, and balloons from the beach on Folly.
In 2016, after hearing from concerned citizens, Mayor Tecklenburg of the City of Charleston convened a “Plastic Bag Minimization” Committee. The Committee, made up of business, conservation, and citizen interests, was tasked with studying the issue of plastic bag use and pollution in Charleston, as well as studying what other municipalities and states have done to address the problem. The Committee developed and distributed an electronic survey for business owners and citizens regarding plastic bag use and opinions on policies. The Committee compiled the data results, and then the Committee’s work was placed on hold. The groups comprising the Committee and the Committee’s work can be found here. It should be noted that all participating groups on the Committee approved of the fact sheet and survey language, as well as the compilation of survey results.
Plastic in the Legislature
The League anticipated the plastics lobby would attempt a state-level ban on plastic bag bans as soon as Isle of Palms passed its ordinance. This tactic is one that the plastics lobby (Novolex and the Progressive Bag Alliance) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has attempted in several other states, and is sometimes successful. Our Columbia team kept an eye on proposed legislation, and we were ready to act with our already-built grassroots team as soon as a bill appeared–H.4793. We utilized our communities and existing coalition partners to stave off the bill’s progression.
However, the plastic lobbyists have not given up, and proposed the bill (H.3529) yet again in the 2017-18 session. Representative Eric Bedingfield (R-Greenville) and co-sponsors introduced the bill in the House, and it bans municipalities from regulating both disposable and reusable packaging (also known as auxiliary containers). “Regulation” includes use, disposition, sale, or any imposition of any prohibition, restriction, fee, or taxation. The bill further states that only the General Assembly can impose regulation of auxiliary containers. Pushed by the plastics lobby in several states across the nation, the purpose of the bill is to prevent local councils from implementing local bans or fees on certain plastic products. A violation of Home Rule, the bill removes the power of local governments in deciding how to address local plastic pollution. The citizens, business owners, mayors and councilmembers of South Carolina are not interested in the plastics lobby dictating the health of our sea turtles, fish, birds, and waterbodies. We oppose the bill and after working with citizens, businesses, and coalition members, the bill was defeated by a narrow margin (50-49) in the House and will be back up for debate in next year’s legislative session.
We are preparing more efforts on the consumer and corporate sides for later this year, so stay tuned to find out how to help on those fronts.
Emily Cedzo is the lead project manager in our Charleston office, but if you are in the Beaufort area, please contact Rikki Parker, South Coast Project Manager, at 843.522.1800 for more information or to learn how to get involved.