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Editorial: Plastic bag bans an important step

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The state wants to ban local governments from banning plastic bags? (copy)

Discarded plastic bags litter a bluff along a tidal creek flowing into Charleston Harbor. On New Year's Day, the city and county of Charleston will join a regionwide ban on single-use bags, straws and foam carryout containers. File

There’s power in breaking little habits. It helps you struggle against bigger ones.

Giving up flimsy single-use plastic bags — the regional ban takes effect New Year’s Day and also includes foam takeout containers, plastic straws and coffee stirrers — should be relatively easy. People in dozens of countries worldwide and in hundreds of cities across the United States have done it. And we seemed to get along OK before the bag industry starting giving away plastic in the 1980s.

One way to break the single-use habit is to put a few canvas or reusable plastic bags in your car. They’re hands-down better for groceries. Collectively, we’ll be helping keep plastic out of the ocean, where plastic entanglement and ingestion plagues everything from plankton to whales.

Charleston Harbor alone has about 7.5 tons of plastic in it at any given time, according to a 2014 study done at The Citadel.

With the city of Charleston and Charleston County bans taking effect Jan. 1, joining the beach and island muncipalities, single-use plastics will be banned along most of the state’s coast. Stores won’t be able to give them away, and you could be ticketed for bringing them onto beaches.

Single-use plastics may not be our biggest environmental threat — think oil exploration and climate change — but plastic bags and other unnecessary conveniences represent a solvable problem. It’s also a great first step in telling the plastics industry to quit foisting so much junk on us. Plastic should be anything but single-use.

Smart merchants will be giving away reusable bags or selling them cheaply. Many Lowcountry residents have kicked the plastic-bag habit already, as have many big grocery chains.

The Legislature has thankfully failed to pass bills that would have stopped local governments from enacting bag bans. But that doesn’t mean some lawmakers won’t try again. Such efforts are an affront to home rule, essentially telling coastal residents they don’t know what’s best for themselves.

And the idea that banning single-use plastic bags is somehow a burden on businesses is dubious, as if the margin on single-use plastics figured prominently in profits. And there are exceptions for items like egg cartons, produce bags, dry-cleaning bags and, yes, newspaper bags.

We clearly have a long way to go in protecting the environment. But quitting single-use plastics is a significant step in that direction.

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