Following House bill H. 3529 close call, we take a closer look at the potential for Daniel Island to go plastic bag-free
By Charlie Morrison
In December, the Daniel Island News published a survey asking readers to answer one, open-ended question: What were their suggestions for making Daniel Island the best version of itself in 2017. We asked and you delivered, submitting over 90 quality ideas for how we could make our little piece of paradise better in the coming year. We published the results of the survey in our January 12 issue under the title “101 Ways To Improve Our Community101 Ways To Improve Our Community.”
What we didn’t know at that time was that some of the suggestions piqued our interest so much we wanted to further investigate in 2017, reporting the results of our findings back to you on the feasibility of the suggestion and state of the issue in the city, state and nation. One such suggestion, to make Daniel Island “fantastic without plastic” by instituting an island-wide ban on single-use plastic bags, was recently in the news and as such that’s where we begin.
The latest Debate House bill H. 3529
The latest chapter in the ongoing, state-wide debate on the issue of plastic pollution was recently penned when on March 7, the S.C. House of Representatives took up a vote on House bill H. 3529, an amendment to the state constitution providing that “any regulation regarding the use, disposition, restriction, disposition, sale or any imposition of any prohibition, restriction, fee imposition, or taxation of auxiliary container must be done only by the general assembly.”
The bill, essentially a ban on municipal plastic bag bans, failed by a mere one vote last month, when it was defeated in the House by a margin of 50-49. The bill was introduced by Reps. Eric Beddingfield and Jay Lucas. Plastic bags producer Novolex is headquartered in Hartsville, in Lucas’ district.
The industry employs hundreds of people in the state (and a total of 7,000 across North America) and contributes more than $107 annually to the state economy, according to the Plastics Industry Trade Association. The Plastics Industry Trade Association reports $0 in production worker wages in the state, however. That means that no plastic bags are made in South Carolina and thus no jobs would be lost should the bags’ use be banned in some cities. That part of the argument in favor of the House bill is, for its part, a red herring.
It goes without saying the industry has some pull in Columbia as well as with other state capitals nationwide. They lobby said governments with their support of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the surprisingly powerful plastic bag lobbying organization. The lobbyists have spent millions and carried out pro-plastic campaigns across the country, including an estimated three million spent on consultants and a petition management company in California in the fall of 2014 during the lead up to the vote on the first state-wide plastic bags in the country.
That measure eventually passed, and now in 2017, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico also have pending legislation that would affect a ban in their respective states.
The bill was only the latest attempt to deny cities throughout the state the ability to ban single-use plastic bags from their communities. State House Representatives introduced a nearly identical bill a year earlier in 2016 but it ultimately failed passage. Both bills were introduced following the Isle of Palms’ successful implementation of a ban on plastic bags in 2015, the first of its kind in the state.
100,000,000,000 – The total number of plastic grocery bags used in the United States each year (an average of 1,500 per year, per American family)
Each year, twelve million barrels of oil are used to make bags for the United States alone
A year later Folly Beach became the second such city, voting to implement a ban the use of all plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and coolers, and balloons from the beach, including by local businesses. Other cities in the state are currently weighing their own bans, including Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. If they ultimately pass bans, they will join not only Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms, but also cities around the country like Austin, Seattle, and San Francisco, and even the state of California. Washington, D.C. is one of another group of cities that imposes a small consumer tax on each bag used.
Daniel Island’s Path to Becoming Plastic Bag-Free
Any ban of bags on Daniel Island would have to be part of Charleston City-wide ban, and Charleston too is considering the issue. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg took the lead on forming the municipality’s “Plastic Bag Minimization” Committee in 2016. The committee, made up of a group of conservation and business interests along with citizens, was charged with studying the issue of plastic bag use and pollution in Charleston, along with what other municipalities and states have done to address the issue.
The committee developed and distributed an electronic survey for business owners and citizens regarding plastic bag use and opinions on policies during the summer, compiling and presenting the results along with a fact sheet on the issue.
The data produced by the group tells an undeniable story that the waters of Charleston Harbor contains nearly seven tons of plastic waste, the waste is harmful to animal and fish species who ingest the plastic after breaks down to microscopic levels. Plastic bags are among the top five sources of plastic litter collected during beach cleanups in Charleston.
“Plastic bags break down over time into smaller pieces called microplastics,” stated Hope Wertz in her August 2015 College of Charleston Master’s thesis abstract quoted by the Plastic Bag Minimization Committee in their fact sheets, titled “Marine Debris in Charleston Harbor: Characterizing Plastic Particles in the Field and Assessing their Effects on Juvenile Clams.” “Small marine organisms that make up a part of our diets such as bivalves, shrimp, crabs, and fish have been shown to accumulate microplastics in their tissues.”
To characterize plastic pollution in Charleston Harbor, Wertz sorted, counted, and weighed all the macroplastic debris items collected by local volunteers at eight locations around Charleston Harbor during the September 2013 Beach Sweep in. In the abstract to her thesis, Wertz presented her findings, which included noting polypropylene plastic from candy wrappers and bottle caps was the most commonly found plastic items found in Charleston Harbor during the study. “The most common plastic items Plastic fragments were most abundant at Daniel Island with an average of 1195 items m±2 across all transects,” wrote Wertz in 2015.
Local anecdotes and data from Charleston cleanups were also cited in the data sheet. From the International Coastal Cleanup organized by the Ocean Conservancy, 2016 data from showed that nearly 800 plastic grocery bags were recovered from just the local coastal region waterways of Charleston county in a single clean-up weekend in 2016. And those anecdotes and the trends they present are backed up by locals on Daniel Island who are in touch with the issue.
“Quite a few of the injured turtles who have been admitted to the Turtle Hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium have ingested amazing amounts of plastic,” said Mary Pringle, Coordinator of the Daniel Island Turtle Patrol. “Plastics in the ocean is a serious and ongoing problem. Microplastics are being found in the bodies of almost all of the sea turtle hatchlings being studied in the Atlantic Ocean.”
What You Can Do:
Neither Berkeley County or Charleston County currently recycle plastic bags, as the incorrect separation of bags from other recyclables is one of the main contamination issues the Berkeley County and Charleston County recycling centers encounter. The bags, when incorrectly can grind a recycling center’s processing equipment to a halt, shutting down machines and causing delays.
The answer, said nine-year Daniel Island resident and head of the Island Clean Sweep Andrea True Kelly in an interview with the News, is to either transition to cloth, sustainable tote bags for the groceries, or if you’re going to continue using plastic bags to also recycle actively on your own using not the County facilities but rather your local grocery store, many of which will accept your used but clean plastic bags for recycling at a dedicated facility.
Kelly has served as the site captain for the Daniel Island Beach Sweep for the past four years and has been a member of the Isle of Palms Turtle Patrol for the past three. For her, acting to clean the world around her is a family affair.
“I believe that instilling a love of the earth and its creatures at a young age is critically important to ensure we have eco-stewards for future generations said Kelly. “We do use plastic products, but our recycling is always fuller than our trash each week.”
The Kelly family brings their over-ripe vegetables to the tidal creek near their home, they pick trash out of the water while kayaking and they leave the beach with trash every Sunday at sunrise when the family does their weekly turtle patrols.
And in way of practical everyday advice, Kelly advises making simple choices in your life such as getting in the habit of using cloth bags at the grocery store, using cloth/reusable bags, encourage your parents, family and friends to use them and give them as gifts for the holidays or other events. When out and about, pick up plastics when you see them and also dispose of them correctly so they don’t fly out when trash can lids pop open.
“Doing these things is just our norm and what we believe is right. I hope my children and their friends who join us have a sense of pride about what they do because they are making a real difference,” she said in conclusion.
For more information on Beach Sweep email Daniel Island Site Captain Andrea True Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Island turtle patrol, contact Mary Pringle by email at email@example.com. To find the nearest plastic bag recycling location near you, open up a web browser and insert http://www.abagslife.com/find-a-recycle-center/. To learn more about the Charleston Plastic Bag Minimization Committee, see http://www.charleston-sc.gov/index.aspx?NID=1454. To see the results of the Committee’s survey, click http://www.charleston-sc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/14402.