Richland County votes to ban plastic bags

Richland County on Tuesday became the latest local government in South Carolina to move forward with plans to limit the use of plastic bags.

The county council passed a measure Tuesday that would ban the use of single-use plastic or some paper bags at stores within the county, becoming the 18th county or municipality in the state to vote to end the use of plastic bags.

Instead, stores would offer shoppers the option of taking their items home in a reusable bag or a bag made from recycled paper. Businesses that do not comply with the ordinance would be fined up to $500 per violation and face the possibility of having their business licenses revoked.

The draft ordinance approved by council called single-use bags “detrimental to the environment,” and said doing away with the bags would “create a cleaner environment,” reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and “eliminate a public nuisance.”

Council members must approve the ordinance two more times before it can take effect. The draft ordinance doesn’t specify when it would take effect.

Activists have pushed for an end to the use of the ubiquitous plastic bags as a frequent source of litter that can be washed down storm drains and end up cluttering oceans with floating “garbage patches.”

Similar bans have already passed in many coastal areas of South Carolina, but they have spread beyond the beach. Within Richland County, the town of Arcadia Lakes has already voted to ban plastic bags, along with Syrofoam cups and coolers. Lexington County is also considering its own ban. Residents can still possess plastic bags, but stores cannot distribute or sell them.

Opponents of such bans say they hurt business and annoy customers. The growing number of local bag prohibitions led some state legislators to push for a ban on bans in the most recent legislative session, pushed in part by an estimated $88,000 in lobbying by the industry-backed American Progressive Bag Alliance in the last two years.

That measure didn’t make it to the Senate floor by the end of the session, but lawmakers could take it up again when they return in January.

Other governments that have banned plastic bags in South Carolina are:

Arcadia Lakes (effective March 2020), Charleston (effective Jan. 1, 2020), Charleston County (effective August 2019 in unincorporated parts of the county), Folly Beach, Beaufort, Bluffton, Port Royal, Hilton Head, Mount Pleasant, Isle of Palms, James Island (effective January 2020), Surfside Beach, Sullivan’s Island, Camden (effective Jan. 1, 2020), Edisto Beach (effective Jan. 1, 2020), North Myrtle Beach (effective Jan. 1, 2021) and Kiawah Island (effective Sept. 8).

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.