Politics & Government

No more plastic-bag bans for SC: House says towns, cities cannot ban grocery bags

Don't recycle these plastics

Matt Riggs, MARC Solid Waste Management District outreach coordinator, explains which plastics are trash.
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Matt Riggs, MARC Solid Waste Management District outreach coordinator, explains which plastics are trash.

The S.C. House voted Wednesday to bar towns and counties from making up their own minds about whether to ban plastic bags.

By a 73-41 vote, the House gave the second of three needed approvals to a bill that would give the General Assembly the sole authority to regulate single-use containers that carry food or merchandise.

The House vote is a big win for the plastic-bag lobby. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, which opposes plastic-bag bans, spent $30,500 lobbying S.C. lawmakers last year.

The legislation is a reaction to communities passing or considering bans on some types of plastic bags.

The first city to enact a plastic-bag ban was the Isle of Palms in 2015. Since then, Folly Beach, Surfside Beach and Beaufort County have OK’d similar bans.

Beaufort County’s ban is contingent on four cities passing similar bans, said Caitie Forde-Smith with the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. They are Hilton Head and Beaufort, which already have OK’d plastic bag bans, and Bluffton and Port Royal, which are scheduled to take up similar bans this month, she said.

Other coastal communities are considering bans, too.

“Today’s vote is a rejection of home rule, and the best interests of our communities and environment,” said Emily Cedzo, a Conservation League director. “Local governments and citizens should have the right to address local problems, like plastic pollution, with local solutions.”

House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, who voted in favor of the legislation, did not return a request for comment.

The bill, if it becomes law, would not affect bans on plastic grocery bags passed by local governments before Jan. 31, 2018. According to the Conservation League, the proposed bans in Beaufort County’s Bluffton and Port Royal also would be exempt from the new law.

Supporters of the bill say regulating plastic bags and other food containers at the local level will lead to higher costs for businesses.

Critics say thriving coastal tourist communities should be allowed to make those decisions themselves.

“If you're going to micromanage them, then why don't we abolish all the county councils and town councils?” asked state Rep. Cezar McKnight, D-Williamsburg, before the vote.