Mount Pleasant Paper Bags (copy)

Jeff McIntyer (from left) leaves a Publix grocery store with his daughters Aylene and Laurie on Friday, April 12, 2019. Publix, along with other Mount Pleasant stores and restaurants, have already switched to paper bags from the plastic ones. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

COLUMBIA — Richland County could become the first inland county to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, even as the state Legislature has considered taking such decisions out of local governments' hands.

County Council could give a bag ban second reading at a Thursday meeting after it advanced without discussion at an earlier meeting. Council member Allison Terracio supports the ban but believes the community needs a broader discussion of why it's needed and how it would work.

The proposal includes a communication campaign to get feedback and to educate retailers and consumers.

"The last thing we would want is for people to think we did this to them, not with them," Terracio said.

Terracio said it makes sense that Richland could become the first inland county to approve a ban.

"We don't have the coast, but we do have the river," she said. 

As drafted, the ordinance would include exceptions for prescription bags, grocery produce bags and bags that cover dry cleaning. There currently is no date for when it would take effect.

Before a final vote, County Council will look at whether its proposal is compatible with the code already implemented by one of its municipalities, the town of Arcadia Lakes. Its ban will take effect March 1. Arcadia Lakes is among the 17 local governments in the state that have passed bans, including Charleston and Beaufort counties.

Having a patchwork of local ordinances that are inconsistent is a reason for counties to leave the issue to state government, said Rebecca Leach, executive director of the S.C. Retail Association. It's a particular problem for larger retailers with stores in different areas with different rules.

"It makes it very difficult for them to comply," she said.

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All these local actions around the state could be rendered moot by a bill pending in the state Senate. The measure would block counties or cities from passing their own bag bans in lieu of whatever the state decides. A similar measure passed the House in 2018 but didn't make it through the Senate before the end of that session. 

Richland County needs to make sure it has people on board, including the consumers and businesses, before it approves its own ban, said state Sen. John Scott, D-Columbia. 

Scott said the business community will need to weigh in on what the correct solution is for them. For Scott, a move to paper bags would be a return to a familiar era.

"I grew up in a corner grocery store," he said. "It was all paper then."

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