Council again defers vote on yard bags

A North Charleston sanitation truck is emptied of yard waste in plastic bags at the Bees Ferry Landfill Monday, September 26, 2011. Charleston County Council will consider a law that will eliminate the use of plastic bags for yard waste.

Charleston County residents must wait at least another month to learn if they will be prohibited from stuffing their yard waste in plastic bags.

County Council's Finance Committee deferred the matter for the second time Tuesday.

The county now makes compost from nearly all the yard debris that comes to the Bees Ferry Landfill, but the material is not of high quality because it has bits of plastic from the bags in it.

The ramped-up compost operation is part of a larger plan to increase the county's recycling rate to 40 percent of the stream of solid waste.

Proponents of a plastic bag ban say a higher quality product would make the mulch and compost more appealing to wholesalers, and could bring in more money to the county. Opponents of the ban say paper bags and other options are not nearly as convenient, and are more expensive.

The ban was initially to go into effect June 30. County Council first voted to defer it until Oct. 1, and now the deferral runs through Oct. 30.

Council members approved that extension with a 5-3 vote. Herb Sass, Vic Rawl, Elliott Summey, Joe Qualey and Teddie Pryor voted in favor of the extension. Dickie Schweers, Colleen Condon and Anna Johnson were opposed.

Councilman Henry Darby did not attend the committee meeting.

Council members who voted for deferring the ban said it would give them more time to study the matter, and give the county's cities and towns more time to consider ways to comply with it.

Summey and Qualey were the most outspoken about holding off on the ban.

Summey, who represents parts of North Charleston and whose father is the mayor of that city, said leaders there "are not thrilled with it."

The equipment the city now uses to pick up plastic bags of yard debris would tear paper bags, he said. The city would have to either purchase new equipment or have more employees on hand to pick up the bags. "It's going to cost money," he said. "It's an unfunded mandate."

He thinks the county could consider providing roll carts to residents in which they could place their yard waste.

Qualey said the county should consider keeping the plastic-bag ban in place at the Bees Ferry Landfill, which is in Charleston County, but it could send the yard debris in plastic bags to the Oakridge Landfill in Dorchester County. The county already sends a portion of its garbage there.

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Schweers said council's indecision is confusing to the county's cities and towns, which pick up the yard waste. The municipalities, including North Charleston, can pick up the debris any way they choose, as long as they don't bring it to the Bees Ferry Landfill in plastic bags, he said. And city leaders could provide their residents with roll carts if they wanted to.

Schweers said he put a lot of time into researching the use of paper bags for yard waste. "I'm becoming a believer," he said. He left leaves bagged in paper out in rainstorms, and found they held up for eight days, he said.

After eight days and several soakings, he lifted them up and dropped them, he said. And they tore only slightly.

He said he thinks the county should move forward quickly with the ban. If after a year the plan isn't working well, the county could make changes, he said.

County Attorney Joe Dawson said all the municipalities have been cooperative in discussions about the bag ban. "They may not like it" because it would require them to change, he said. "But they recognize the environmentally sensitive approach the county is trying to take."

County Attorney Joe Dawson by Oct. 6 will provide County Council members with cost estimates on debagging yard waste delivered in plastic bags, providing roll carts to residents for their debris, transferring and dumping yard waste in plastic bags to the Oakridge Landfill in Dorchester County, and finding a system to incinerate leaves.

If council takes no further action on the plastic bag ban, it will go in effect Nov. 1. If it wants to extend the deferral or reverse the ban, it would have to take a public vote.