[image-1] On Tuesday, Charleston City Council will give first reading to an ordinance that would ban businesses from using plastic bags, straws, and Styrofoam containers, adding to the list of coastal communities in South Carolina that have considered or implemented similar efforts.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the use of “single-use plastic carryout bags” and disposable containers made of “polyesterene/plastic foam” by businesses, grocery stores, and the city itself, according to a draft proposal.

Today’s City Council meeting will take place at 5 p.m. in City Hall at 80 Broad St.
[location-1] The ban would not apply to newspaper bags, bags used to clean up pet waste, or bags used by charities, pharmacies, or medical facilities. Plastic drinking straws needed by customers with physical or medical conditions are also exempt.

After a written warning, a first violation could result in a $200 fine, followed by $350 for a second violation and $500 for each additional offense. Repeated violations could result in the “suspension or revocation” of a business license.

This is the first attempt at a bag ban in Charleston, South Carolina’s largest city.


Isle of Palms became the state’s first beach community to ban plastic bags in 2015. Folly Beach banned single-use plastic bags in 2016. This year, Hilton Head Island and Surfside Beach followed suit.

Mt. Pleasant banned plastic bags in February, which triggered the state House to advance a bill first introduced in January 2017 that would have prevented similar bans by local municipalities and rested the power solely on the General Assembly.

The bill was sent to the Senate in February, where it stalled before the end of the legislative session.

Sullivan’s Island is expected to pass its own ban, which covers plastic bags, straws, and Styrofoam products, on Tues. Nov. 20. Last month, town council members unanimously approved the ordinance’s second reading.

Charleston’s ordinance posits that, since their introduction in the 1950s, plastic bags have “developed into a global scourge, littering streets, parks, public squares, roadways, clogging sewer drains and amassing in landfills.”
[content-1] It argues that bags have collected in “huge ocean gyres,” likely referring to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and other similar concentrations of microplastics.

A “Plastic Bag Minimization Committee” comprised of city officials, conservation groups, and businesses met from March through November 2016. A survey conducted by the committee found that “businesses strongly support a ban, and that 83.8 percent of the 4,733 citizens who participated “would support a ban on single-use plastic bags.”

In a presentation on Nov. 1, Charleston’s Resiliency and Sustainability Advisory Committee advocated for a “community wide solution,” and cited numbers from Folly Beach showing that, after the town implemented its ban in 2016, the number of plastic bags collected in beach sweeps decreased by almost 80 percent.
[content-3] “If the city approves the ordinance, it will join Mt. Pleasant, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Surfside Beach and every single municipality in Beaufort County in banning single-use plastics, and it will be the largest city in South Carolina to do so,” said Coastal Conservation League Program Director Emily Cedzo in a statement. “We believe Charleston can and should become a state and national leader on proactively addressing harmful plastic pollution.”

A 2016 study by The Citadel found that, during an eight-site 2013 beach sweep, the highest collection of debris was found in the waters near Waterfront Park. Seven percent of it consisted of plastic bags. Foam cups and plates accounted for almost 17 percent of the waste.

If passed, Charleston’s ban would take effect a year after ratification.

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