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This Midlands town just banned plastic bags

Here’s how long it takes for the most common types of trash to decompose in the ocean

Trash is a major problem in our oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here's how long it takes for some of the most common types of trash to decompose — including straws, plastic bags and balloons.
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Trash is a major problem in our oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Here's how long it takes for some of the most common types of trash to decompose — including straws, plastic bags and balloons.

For the first time, a Midlands community is banning single-use plastic bags, such as the kind often used by grocery stores, joining a widespread environmental movement aimed at reducing litter in waterways, beaches, forests and roads.

The Arcadia Lakes Town Council voted unanimously Thursday night to ban most single-use plastic bags by retailers, along with Styrofoam cups and Styrofoam coolers that are not encased in a hard material.

“We recognize that single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment,” Mayor Mark Huguley said Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the council’s vote. “I’m always picking them up from my yard. They’re ubiquitous. They’re in yards and streets and waterways. They don’t disintegrate easily.”

Arcadia Lakes, a small town of about 1,000 residents in central Richland County near Columbia, is the first community in inland South Carolina to ban plastic bags, according to the state’s Coastal Conservation League. It follows the bag-ban example of a dozen mostly larger cities and counties along the state’s tourist-heavy coastline.

“I think we are trying to do the right thing here, and we just all believe that sometimes a small place can make a big difference,” Huguley said.

In recent months, cities including Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Surfside Beach, Folly Beach and Hilton Head Island have outlawed stores’ and restaurants’ use of plastic bags. Charleston, the state’s largest city, voted last November to ban not just plastic bags, but also plastic straws and foam containers, The Post and Courier reported.

Richland County is considering a plastic bag ban of its own.

Environmental advocates say plastic bags are among the biggest components of litter and can harm wildlife and water quality. But others say that regulating plastic bags and other food containers could lead to higher costs for local businesses, which could trickle down to consumers.

As a mostly residential community, Arcadia Lakes has only a few businesses that will be affected by the bag ban, which applies only to retailers. Businesses will have until March 2020 to transition to the bag ban. And there are a number of exceptions written into the law, Huguley said, such as allowing plastic garment bags used by dry cleaners.

When he initially shared the proposal with local retailers, Huguley said it was met with some concerns.

“Yes, there are some that are not happy with it, but none have followed up with me,” the mayor said. “I think as they read the ordinance, my suspicion is they feel like maybe they want to give it a try.”

Some state lawmakers, under pressure from plastic-bag industry lobbyists, tried unsuccessfully to stop local governments from outlawing plastic bags for the past two years. The ban on bag bans died in the S.C. Senate last year thanks, in part, to the efforts of local government advocates and environmentalists.

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Sarah Ellis has reported on Columbia and Richland County since 2014. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in journalism. She’s probably skipping happy hour to go to a County Council meeting.
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