There’s good evidence coastal South Carolina is winning the battle over banning single-use plastic bags.
Another plastics industry-driven effort to halt bans has stalled in the S.C. Legislature — at least for this year. Like Beaufort County, Charleston County has passed a single-use plastics ban to include unincorporated areas, and Mount Pleasant’s ban starts April 16, joining at least 10 other regional municipalities.
But perhaps more importantly, retailers are taking heed of which way the wind is blowing. Grocery stores have begun phasing out the flimsy bags.
The Kroger Co., by the far the nation’s biggest grocery store operator, has announced it will phase out single-use plastic bags by 2025. That’s a good sign Kroger is listening to its customers and should encourage other grocery chains and big corporations to follow suit.
In the Charleston area, Harris Teeter has stopped using the bags at all six of its stores east of the Cooper River, joining Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Lowes Foods and Aldi in advance of the Mount Pleasant ban. Publix in Mount Pleasant stops using them this week.
Keeping plastic bags out of the ocean and coastal waterways is important because they are a hazard for so many marine creatures, especially sea turtles and whales and other sea mammals that can mistake them for jellyfish. Necropsies done on dozens of dead whales in recent years have shown their stomachs were full of plastics (mostly bags), and that they eventually starved to death. UNESCO estimates that about 100,000 marine mammals die annually because of plastic pollution.
Plastic bag bans now cover more than half of South Carolina’s coast. Jasper, Georgetown and Horry counties should close the gaps with countywide bans. Any pushback would likely come from the plastics industry, not retailers. And banning single-use plastic bags along the entire coast would give businesses the consistency that politicians say they need.
The momentum behind plastic bag bans isn’t limited to the Lowcountry. New York just became the second state after California to pass a statewide ban (Hawaii also has a de facto ban), and Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont are working toward them. Just this year, more than 90 bills were filed in state legislatures aimed at banning or taxing single-use plastic bags. Florida, however, is one of 11 states that pre-empts local governments from passing bag bans.
Residents in coastal areas without bans can do their part by switching to reusable bags and refusing to accept plastic bags. That sends as strong a message as anything.
Unfortunately, single-use plastic bags are a worldwide problem. But fortunately, consumers have the power to change the world. And in the long-run, politicians would be wise to be on the side of the people rather than the plastics industry.