South Carolina's Isle of Palms considers banning plastic shopping bags

The City Council on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, voted unanimously on Tuesday to move ahead in the process of creating an ordinance that would ban plastic shopping bags.


South Carolina's Isle of Palms bans plastic shopping bags.   Contributed photo

The City Council on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, voted unanimously on Tuesday to move ahead in the process of creating an ordinance that would ban plastic shopping bags. 

“I don’t think you’re going to find anyone against (banning the bags),” Councilman Jimmy Carroll told the Post and Courier.

But Councilman Mike Posey, who is from Huntington Beach, Calif., might disagree. His city has lived with a plastic-bag ban for two years, and he recently introduced legislation to repeal that ban. “Most people are responsible; they know what to do with plastic bags,” Posey said on public radio station KPCC. “And if we are going to ban plastic bags, why not plastic bottles? Why not plastic packaging?”

“In all the places where they have instituted this type of legislation, it really hasn’t produced any meaningful results,” Phil Rozenski of Novolex, a South Carolina retail bag recycler and manufacturer of both paper and plastic, said. Rozenski said the effort put into banning the bags is better spent on recycling education. 

Only one half of 1 percent of national litter is made up of retail plastic bags. As many as 75 percent of all retail plastic bags are reused by the consumer, as everything from trash bin liners to pet waste collection, while an additional 15 percent of bags are recycled. In contrast, far fewer paper bags are reused by consumers, with up to 60 percent of those bags being recycled instead of reused. 

Despite being called “single-use plastic bags” by opponents, the truth is very few plastic bags are only used once. 

Because the effect of banning these bags is so small due to their high rate of reuse, most states that have considered the ban have decided not to enact it, most recently in Maine. In the only state that has passed a statewide ban, California, a referendum to repeal the ban received enough signatures to be placed on the ballot. This has left smaller units of government, cities and counties, such as the Isle of Palms, to become the arena for these pieces of legislation. 

“When states look at it, states see it’s not a meaningful policy,” Rozenski said. However, it can be easier to sway city councils and county boards with more emotional appeals, which Rozenski attributes to their success at those levels of government.

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