In the late 1970s, single-use plastic bags were seldom available in grocery stores. Since then they have become an ubiquitous part of our shopping ritual — an estimated one trillion plastic bags are used each year globally. They are so seamlessly ingrained into our daily routines that it is difficult to imagine giving them up. But there is a price: in Charleston harbor alone, more than an estimated 7.5 tons of plastic are breaking down to microplastics in the tide and waves at any given time. And sooner or later, a portion of these microplastics are eaten or swallowed by the sea life, and works its way up the food chain.
South Carolina’s counties and municipalities have a long history of being able to make decisions at the local level that are in their best interest. Most recently, the residents of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina’s fourth-largest city, have decided that they are fed up with single use plastic trash littering their highways, marshes and neighborhoods. With a vote of eight to one, Mt. Pleasant said no more trash, and voted to prohibit single-use plastic bags, foam food containers, packing peanuts, and plastic straws.
But — and there is always a but — outside interest from the plastic bag industry think they know what is best for our state, and have vigorously lobbied state officials, pushing their pro-plastic bag agenda and their support of House Bill 3529.
H.3529 strips the ability of local governments to create local solutions to local problems, and seeks to establish that only the General Assembly can establish policies regarding plastics, styrofoam, and other container waste. In other words, local governments will lose their local decision-making authority, and will no longer be able to choose how they manage single-use plastics.
But the debate at the heart of this bill is much bigger than just plastic bags. Representative Cezar McKnight, from Williamsburg, has stated “We’ve had the plastic bag interests come up here to Columbia and rather than go to the local counties and municipalities that have enacted these ordinances prohibiting the bags and lobbying them to change, they’ve come up here to get us to just pass this bill that’s going to be on those local municipalities.”
Lobbyists from the plastics industry and some South Carolina representatives do not realize and/or refuse to accept that local coastal communities have a much better understanding of what is best for their constituents. Beaufort County, Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, and Surfside Beach have all implemented a version of the ordinance that Mt. Pleasant just passed, and the reason is simple. Coastal communities value tourism, a pristine environment, healthy wildlife and a unique fishing industry. The rich diversity of our communities is why local decision-making is so critical for our state, and the South Carolina legislature needs to get out of the way of local control and abide by Home Rule.
Last week, the Senate committee voted 10 to 5 to move House Bill 3529 to the Senate Floor. Within the next two weeks this anti-home rule bill could become state law.
Get ready for a showdown y’all!