As part of an environmental campaign, cities throughout the U.S. have banned the use of plastic bags, and now some South Carolina municipalities — including Folly Beach and Isle of Palms — have followed suit.
But at what cost?
"There is no hard evidence that bag bans save the environment," Pamela Villarreal, a National Center for Policy Analysis economist who has studied the impact of such bans, told Palmetto Business Daily. "Also, many of the reusable non-canvas bags, such as the thicker plastic shopping bags and the bags that are stamped to look like cloth bags, are manufactured in China and require lots of fuel to manufacture and carbon dioxide-spewing shops to import to the United States."
Villareal pointed out that plastic bags make up less than one-half of a percent of litter in the U.S. She also said the term "reusable bag" can be deceiving when referring to non-plastic bags, as many Americans choose to reuse plastic bags for a number of household uses.
She said misconceptions over the impact of plastic bags is probably due to anecdotal evidence of people seeing plastic bag litter on their streets.
"Who hasn't driven down the street and seen one floating across the road or one that is caught up in a tree?" she said. "It gives a false impression that plastic bag waste is everywhere . . . environmental groups use this emotional drive to 'save the planet' and 'reduce consumerism' to get bag bans passed at the local level."
During the most recent session, the South Carolina legislature considered, but rejected, a measure prohibiting local governments from passing such bans.
The Palmetto State is home to Novolex, a major manufacturer of plastic bags. According to statistics provided by a plastic bag industry group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, Novolex's plant in Hartsville contributes $34.6 million to the state's economy. Two hundred people are employed at four of the company's facilities in the state.
The group says plastic bans threaten the Novolex jobs and economic investment. Villareal said the key to fighting these bans is to stay vigilant and vocal with elected officials.
"City and county politicians rely on having no pushback at their meetings when passing these types of bans," she said. "People need to stay informed and, if necessary, attend meetings where a ban is being discussed."