Charleston County Council asked its lawyer to draft an ordinance for a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags Thursday, a significant first step that could make it the second South Carolina county to enact such a law.
The recommendation was raised by Councilman Vic Rawl at the Finance Committee meeting. It passed unanimously with an 8-0 vote. Council Chairman Elliott Summey was the only member absent.
After the ordinance is drafted, it will return to the committee for approval and then head to the full County Council agenda for review.
Debate on the topic was short, lasting about 5 minutes. The only question raised came from Councilman Brantley Moody, who wanted to know how many businesses could be impacted. The number was unknown.
Moody, whose father reluctantly voted for the single-use plastics ban in the city of Charleston, borrowed a line from his dad to make the point that his vote for an ordinance is not a guarantee he will ultimately support it.
"I don't think we have a litter problem, I think we have a pride problem," Moody said, invoking his father's words. "But I'm not opposed to a lawyer writing up some stuff."
An hour before the meeting, Rawl told The Post and Courier his intent is to bring uniformity and clarity now that multiple cities and towns in the county have enacted their own bans.
"From the standpoint of both the businesses and the citizens, there needs to be consistency," Rawl said. "It's going to be very disconcerting for business who continue to carry both plastic and paper bags when, in essence, their customers may get stuff in plastic bags and then go to another municipality or beach with beer or soft drinks or whatever, where plastic is banned."
To date, more than 10 municipalities in South Carolina have voted to ban single-use plastics. Isle of Palms was the first to do so in 2015. Beaufort County was the first to implement a countywide ban in South Carolina.
The county-level discussion happened the same night the Town of James Island passed its own ban of single-use plastics, straws and foam-type containers. Part of their intent was also uniformity to bring the town in line with neighboring Folly Beach and Charleston.
In 2017, state lawmakers filed a bill meant to preempt South Carolina municipalities from enacting their own plastic bag bans and instead, proposed giving that prohibition power to the General Assembly.
Despite opposition from municipal leaders who decried the move as one that encroaches on home rule, the bill passed the S.C. House of Representatives. It died in the Senate.
That doesn't mean it's over.
A new iteration of the bill could be filed during this legislative session, but the charge would need to be taken up by another lawmaker since Eric Bedingfield, a Republican from Greenville County who championed past bills, is no longer in office.
On the other end of the spectrum, state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, has filed legislation to enact a statewide ban on single-use plastics.
Movement to prohibit single-use plastic bags has been mounting both nationally and internationally in recent years. Many of the towns and states that pursue the bans cite an interest in reducing litter and keeping plastics out of waterways.