Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
April 16 2019

Action on Plastics in South Carolina

by Sarah Damron

It has been an action-packed month for single-use plastics legislation in South Carolina!

In an effort to take local action to address plastic pollution that litters beaches and waterways, three local governments in South Carolina have enacted ordinances over the course of the past month. Charleston County, Isle of Palms, and, most recently, North Myrtle Beach, have seen fit to establish regulations banning commonly littered plastic items from distribution in their jurisdictions. A fourth local government, Mount Pleasant, has an existing ordinance that goes into effect today.  In all, 15 local government ordinances to address plastic pollution are currently on the books across South Carolina. Our Charleston and Grand Strand Chapters have both been engaged in and supportive of the ordinance efforts in their areas, and are proud of the leadership shown by these communities to keep beaches free of plastic debris. 

Meanwhile, at the state level, contrary efforts to prevent local government action are underway.  A bill has been introduced, S. 394, that seeks to consolidate the authority to regulate bags, bottles, containters, cups, packages and so-on at the state level, while also nullifying any existing local regulations.  This would impinge upon local home rule authority to pass local legislation.  The bill passed through its Senate Committee stop last week and has been reported to the Senate floor. 

Local governments, environmental advocacy groups like Surfrider Foundation and our allies at Plastic-Free Low Country, and allied state legislators were already successful in defeating a similar state bill from the previous legislative session that would have prohibited local government regulation of bags and other so-called "auxiliary containers".  

Unfortunately, there still seems to be interest from some in the legislature to stymy any and all action to legislate plastic pollution solutions. 

In addition to barring local fee or ban ordinances, neither the current or former container bill, nor any other bills that have been introduced to-date, have sought to establish statewide regulations to curb distribution of single-use disposable containers, which made up 9 of the top 10 items collected from the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup Day.  If the state passes this new bill, state legislators would be exemplifying poor governance by sending the message that "we're not going to address this problem, but neither can you."  

Our local Surfrider Foundation chapters in South Carolina will continue their best efforts to support local governments in their efforts to address their local plastic pollution concerns, and will carry hope that, one day, the state will show leadership to meaningfully address single-use plastic litter as well.