New City of Charleston regulations target plastic bags, straws and foam products
In a 2017 Daniel Island News survey, we asked our readers to come up with “101 ways to improve our community.” In one suggestion, a respondent noted that Daniel Island would be “fantastic without plastic.” It seems Charleston City Council agrees, at least as it pertains to citywide use of single-use plastic bags, straws and polystyrene/plastic foam.
On Nov. 27, Council voted 11-2 to amend a city ordinance and add a new article related to environmentally acceptable packaging and products. Regulations under the new measure, which goes into effect on December 1, 2019, include the following: no business establishment or food or grocery establishment within city limits may provide single-use plastic bags to customers (only reusable bags or recyclable paper bags will be allowed); no business establishment or food or grocery establishment may provide single-use plastic carryout bags at any City of Charleston facility, City-sponsored event or any event held on City-owned property; and food providers within the city of Charleston may not provide food in any disposable service ware that contains polystyrene/plastic foam. Certain exemptions do apply, such as polystyrene products wholly encapsulated by a more durable materials (examples include surfboards, boats, and life preservers); specific construction products; laundry/dry cleaning bags; newspaper bags; and pet waste bags.
In explaining the reasons behind the new regulations, the ordinance states that plastic bags, first introduced in the 1950s, “have since developed into a global scourge, littering streets, parks, public squares, roadways, clogging sewer drains and amassing in landfills.” The City hopes the ban will protect the marine life and wildlife of its surrounding waterways, and maximize the operating life of landfills, while lessening the economic and environmental costs of managing waste.
City Councilman Gary White, a Daniel Island resident, voted in favor of the ordinance, but wasn’t convinced it is the best way to tackle the problem.
“One of the things I identified in reviewing the ordinance is that the bigger overarching problem in Charleston is littering,” noted White. “Of all the folks that came forward and spoke in favor, they all said the same thing. We need a cleaner environment. That has to do with litter. If you ban certain products you will not have the ultimate desired effect…You will remove some of the things that get into the environment, but littering is still going to exist.”
The new regulations are well intended, added White, but he believes they are attempting to legislate behaviors.
“But that’s not what’s going to ultimately end up happening,” he continued. “We have to be more vigilant in focusing on the enforcement of littering. That was the biggest issue for me…If we really want to address our environment and the cleanliness of our environment, we have to focus on behavior and individuals and teaching our children not to litter and how to take care of the environment. I think that’s the right way to address this.”
Environmental advocates, including the Coastal Conservation League, believe the new ordinance is a step in the right direction. Among those singing the measure’s praises is Daniel Island resident Andrea Kelly, who has served as the island’s Beach/River Sweep Clean-Up site captain for many years.
“I’m absolutely thrilled!” said Kelly. “After a decade of picking up trash along our beautiful coast independently and more formally as site captain for the Daniel Island Beach Sweep, I am so looking forward to seeing the direct impact of this ban during our next sweep and my next early morning paddle. It is heartening to know that our locally elected officials listened to the collective voices of residents and organizations like the Coastal Conservation League, SC Sea Grant Consortium and SC Sea Turtle Care Center and heeded the warnings regarding the dangers of plastics and Styrofoam waste to our fragile coastal ecosystem. I am so appreciative of everyone who helped support endeavors leading to this important change.”
Kelly called on all her fellow residents to join her in protecting the environment. She believes that electing legislators who propose and support legislation aimed at “seriously addressing pollution and climate change at a broader level” is equally important.
“For now, I’m celebrating this important victory for our shore, but hope we all continue to push for even more protections for our coastal ecosystems that depend on our timely action to influence even greater change. Together, we can make a difference.”