Can Daniel Island be 'fantastic without plastic'?
Last January, we surveyed readers of The Daniel Island News to come up with “101 ways to improve our community.” One of the suggestions submitted was to make Daniel Island “fantastic without plastic,” meaning that the community should ban the use of plastic bags. Just how feasible is this idea? In recognition of Earth Day on April 22, we thought it was a good time to find out.
The latest chapter in the ongoing, statewide debate on the issue of plastic pollution was recently penned when, on March 7, the S.C. House of Representatives took up a vote on House bill H. 3529, a measure that essentially called for prohibiting municipal plastic bag bans. It failed by a mere one vote last month, when it was defeated in the House by a margin of 50-49. The bill was introduced by Reps. Eric Beddingfield and Jay Lucas. Plastic bags producer Novolex is headquartered in Hartsville, in Lucas’ district.
It goes without saying that the plastic bag industry has some pull in Columbia, as well as with other state capitals nationwide. They lobby said governments with their support of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, the surprisingly powerful plastic bag lobbying organization. The lobbyists have spent millions and carried out pro-plastic campaigns across the country, including an estimated three million spent on consultants and a petition management company in California in the fall of 2014, during the lead up to the vote on the first state-wide plastic bag ban in the country. That measure eventually passed, and now in 2017, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico also have pending legislation that would affect a ban in their respective states.
The recent South Carolina bill was only the latest attempt to deny cities throughout the state the ability to ban single-use plastic bags from their communities. State House Representatives introduced a nearly identical bill a year earlier in 2016, but it ultimately failed passage. Both bills were introduced following the Isle of Palms’ successful implementation of a ban on plastic bags in 2015, the first of its kind in the state.
A year later Folly Beach became the second such city, voting to implement a ban on the use of all plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and coolers, and balloons from the beach, including by local businesses. Other cities in the state are currently weighing their own bans, including Beaufort and Hilton Head Island. If they ultimately pass bans, they will join not only Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms, but also cities around the country like Austin, Seattle and San Francisco, and even the state of California. Washington, D.C. is one of another group of cities that imposes a small consumer tax on each bag used.
DANIEL ISLAND'S PATH TO BECOMING PLASTIC BAG-FREE
Any ban of plastic bags on Daniel Island would have to be part of a Charleston citywide ban - and indeed the Holy City is studying the issue. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg took the lead in forming the municipality’s “Plastic Bag Minimization” Committee in 2016. The committee, made up of a group of conservation and business representatives, along with citizens, was charged with studying the issue of plastic bag use and pollution in Charleston, along with what other municipalities and states have done to address it.
The committee developed and distributed an electronic survey for business owners and citizens regarding plastic bag use and opinions on policies during the summer, compiling and presenting the results last fall, along with a fact sheet on the issue.
The data produced by the group tells an undeniable story that the waters of Charleston Harbor contain nearly seven tons of plastic waste, and that the waste is harmful to animal and fish species who ingest it after it breaks down to microscopic levels. Additionally, the study found that plastic bags are among the top five sources of plastic litter collected during beach cleanups in Charleston.
“Quite a few of the injured turtles who have been admitted to the Turtle Hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium have ingested amazing amounts of plastic,” said Mary Pringle, Coordinator of the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island Turtle Team. “Plastics in the ocean are a serious and ongoing problem. Microplastics are being found in the bodies of almost all of the sea turtle hatchlings being studied in the Atlantic Ocean.”
“Plastic bags break down over time into smaller pieces called microplastics,” stated Hope Wertz in her August 2015 College of Charleston Master’s thesis abstract, titled “Marine Debris in Charleston Harbor: Characterizing Plastic Particles in the Field and Assessing their Effects on Juvenile Clams.” Wertz’s findings were referenced in the recent Charleston study.
“Small marine organisms that make up a part of our diet such as bivalves, shrimp, crabs, and fish have been shown to accumulate microplastics in their tissues,” continued Wertz.
To characterize plastic pollution in Charleston Harbor, Wertz sorted, counted, and weighed all the macroplastic debris items collected by local volunteers at eight locations around the Charleston Harbor during a September 2013 Beach Sweep. Wertz then presented her findings, which included noting polypropylene plastic such as candy wrappers and bottle caps, which were the most commonly found plastic item found in Charleston Harbor during the study. Interestingly, she noted that plastic fragments were “most abundant” around Daniel Island waters.
Local anecdotes and data from Charleston cleanups were also cited in the city study. From the International Coastal Cleanup organized by the Ocean Conservancy, 2016 findings revealed that that nearly 800 plastic grocery bags were recovered from just the local coastal region waterways of Charleston County in a single clean up weekend. And those anecdotes and the trends they present are backed up by locals on Daniel Island who are in touch with the issue.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Currently, neither Berkeley County or Charleston County recycle plastic bags, as the incorrect separation of bags from other recyclables is one of the main contamination issues the Berkeley County and Charleston County recycling centers encounter. The bags can grind a recycling center’s processing equipment to a halt, shutting down machines and causing delays.
So what can residents do to cut down on the plastic bag threat to our environment? It may be time to transition, according to Daniel Island resident Andrea True Kelly, who also serves as head of the Daniel Island “Beach Sweep” clean-up efforts. Kelly recommends making the switch to cloth, sustainable tote bags for your groceries, or, if you’re going to continue using plastic bags, recycle actively on your own using local grocery stores, many of which will accept your used but clean plastic bags for recycling at a dedicated facility (our island Publix is one such site).
Kelly has served as the site captain for the Daniel Island Beach Sweep for the past four years and has been a member of the Isle of Palms Turtle Patrol for the past three. For her, acting to clean the world around her is a family affair.
“I believe that instilling a love of the earth and its creatures at a young age is critically important to ensure we have eco stewards for future generations,” said Kelly. “We do use plastic products, but our recycling is always fuller than our trash each week.”
The Kelly family also brings their over-ripe vegetables to the tidal creek near their home, they pick trash out of the water while kayaking, and they clean up trash on the beach every Sunday at sunrise when the family does their weekly turtle patrols.
Kelly also advises picking up plastics when you see them and also disposing of them correctly so they don’t fly out when trash can lids pop open.
“Doing these things is just our norm and what we believe is right,” she continued. “I hope my children and their friends who join us have a sense of pride about what they do because they are making a real difference.”
For more information on the next Daniel Island Beach Sweep, email Daniel Island Site Captain Andrea True Kelly at email@example.com. To learn more about the Charleston Plastic Bag Minimization Committee, see http://www.charleston-sc.gov/index.aspx?NID=1454. To see the results of the Committee’s survey, click http://www.charleston-sc.gov/ DocumentCenter/View/14402.
BY THE NUMBERS:
100,000,000,000 – The total number of plastic grocery bags used in the United States each year (www.sciencing.com). That’s an average of 1,500 per year, per American family.
12,000,000 - The number of barrels of oil used each year in the United States to make bags (www.sustainableamerica.org).
What you can do to curb plastic pollution?
· Use cloth/reusable bags
· Recycle: Although plastic grocery bags can be recycled, the United States recycles only about two percent.
· Pick up plastics when you see them.
· Encourage your parents, family and friends to use cloth bags (you can even give them as gifts for holidays).
· Dispose of bags properly so they don’t fly out when trash can lids loosen.