House bill seeks sole authority on plastic bag bans in state

Folly Beach businesses now use paper bags for their products (Source: Live 5)
Folly Beach businesses now use paper bags for their products (Source: Live 5)

FOLLY BEACH, SC (WCSC) - State lawmakers passed a bill in a House of Representative subcommittee which could take power away from local governments when it comes to banning certain items from use.

The Business and Commerce subcommittee approved H. 3529 Wednesday afternoon after hearing from several Charleston area environmental activists about the importance of local regulation, and the use of plastics along the coastline. It will head back to the full committee for approval.

In October, Folly Beach city council approved a law, banning the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam within city limits. The law went into effect January 1.

Paper bags are now being used at local businesses as a way to follow the new rules in the city.

"It's okay," said Billie Adams, the store manager at Aqua. "It's a little annoying because it takes longer to bag things, and they don't fit in quite as well as plastic bags, but it's all environmental so it's actually better."

Now the local ordinance faces heat from state lawmakers who introduced a bill which would give them the sole authority to decide what items, like plastic bags, can and can't be banned.

"I'm definitely opposed to it," said Folly Beach City Council member DJ Rich. "We feel like local should have home rule. We know our area better than most."

Rich said the council worked for years with environmental groups trying to get the ordinance passed.

Now the House bill could look at taking that away.

"It's my understanding that an area of South Carolina has plastic manufacturing, and I totally get that," Rich said. "You don't want people to lose jobs because of it, but we're just trying to take care of our environment the best we can."

A spokesperson with the South Carolina Aquarium said there were 14 sea turtles admitted to the care center and treated for ingesting plastic pieces last year. The Charleston Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation also picked up 738 plastic bags during their sweeps last year, along with 786 plastic bottles, 1478 plastic food wrappers, and 4651 Styrofoam pieces.

"We really care about our oceans, our environment because that's what we strive off of and our tourists," Adams said. "So we have to do what we do to protect it."

For the foreseeable future, Folly Beach will continue to operate under its current ordinance.

Environmental activists and local lawmakers said they plan to speak with state legislators about the importance of local government.

"If they were to come back and say we couldn't do it, what's next?" Rich said. "What next issue are we going to have where the state comes in and plays the big bad brother."

There's no word on when full committee will discuss the bill. If approved, the bill would head to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.

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