MOUNT PLEASANT — South Carolina's fourth-largest city has decided to prohibit most single-use plastic bags, foam food containers and more, setting up a potential showdown with state lawmakers.
The town's regulations would change the way more than 85,000 people shop, take home leftovers, and even keep their drinks cold. Businesses that rely on foam food packaging and single-use plastic bags would have to switch, and some have warned that packaging cost increases would be passed along.
That is, unless the state Legislature prohibits such local bans, retroactive to Jan. 31, as the House has already voted to do. Folly Beach, Isle of Palms, Surfside Beach and Hilton Head Island all have plastic bag bans that were adopted prior to Jan 31.
Supporters of the ban in Mount Pleasant, including multiple Charleston-based environmental and wildlife groups, said it is necessary to protect the environment, area waterways and marine life.
Town resident Susan Thompson said one more reason to pass a ban is, Horry County regularly shuts down its recycling plant, which handles materials from Charleston County, because plastic bags jam the equipment.
The town's ban would take effect in a year, and its reach extends beyond grocery store bags and take-out clamshells. The sale of polystyrene or plastic foam coolers and packing peanuts would also be prohibited. Plastic straws would be a no-no.
Councilwoman Kathy Landing, who spoke at length against the ordinance, said it would put Mount Pleasant businesses at a disadvantage. For example, she said, a catering business located outside the town could use foam products to serve messy food at an event in Mount Pleasant, but a caterer based in the town could not.
"Are we trying to drive businesses out of the town?" Landing said.
Jim Wright, a town resident who said he owns a food business, told council members the ordinance is poorly written and overly broad. If it passes, he said he'll pass the costs along to customers, but he urged council members to make changes before the final vote.
Several council members agreed the ordinance — discussed since early February at more than a half-dozen council and committee meetings — could use more work but said it could be amended during the year-long period before it takes effect.
Landing said the town should reject the ordinance and adopt a volunteer initiative she called “Mount Pleasant Ecofriendly Partners.” Instead, the council voted 8-1 to adopt the ban, with Landing opposed.
Councilman Jim Owens, sponsor of the legislation, said council members have received hundreds of emails supporting the ban, and dozens opposing it. At multiple town meetings where the ordinance was discussed, opponents have been scarce, and greatly outnumbered.
That was true Tuesday as well, when Town Council received a standing ovation after approving the ban.
There have been some changes to the regulations since they were first proposed, including the lowering of fines for violations. Some minor changes to the wording were approved before the vote Tuesday.
“We’re not trying to hurt anybody," Owens said prior to the meeting. "We understand the challenges of businesses.”
Mayor Will Haynie said the measure should reduce pollution and help protect the natural beauty of the area and the shrimp fleet based in Mount Pleasant. He said he would urge state lawmakers to not weaken home rule by prohibiting towns from approving such regulations.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, the "plastic bag ban-ban" as some are calling House Bill 3529 was approved in the House, 73-41, in February and awaits action in a Senate committee, as early as Thursday.