Letter to the Editor-April 26, 2018
As evidence mounts regarding the harmful direct and indirect effects of plastic waste, local and even country-wide bans on this pollutant are becoming more frequent. In April, Mount Pleasant’s Town Council passed the most comprehensive single-use plastics ordinance in state history, becoming the largest municipality in SC to effectively address plastic pollution, following Beaufort County, Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms.
According to the Coastal Conservation League, a ban on single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam will help curb plastic pollution and protect places like Shem Creek and the Charleston Harbor; evidence from other bans and related solutions shows they work with little if any direct cost to establishments that comply and local municipalities who enforce them.
Unfortunately, a SC Senate Committee recently voted to pass a bill that is essentially a ban on these plastic bans (H. 3529). This fate of this bill, which already passed the SC House, is unclear. If passed into state law, it would undo what Mt. Pleasant voted was in their best interest and prevent other SC towns from doing the same. In my opinion, and those who initially opposed it, our local communities should have the right to address local problems with local solutions (i.e., Home Rule). The General Assembly stripping local citizens, City and County Councils and civic leaders who come together to enact legislation deemed to be in their collective best interest, is frightening. Perhaps driving bills like H. 3529 is pressure from the enormous plastics lobby. The lack of uniformity argument I’ve heard proposed doesn’t make much sense as it’s somewhat illogical to think that exactly what is best for Greenville is going to be best for Daniel Island and vice versa.
Of all the waste polluting our planet, plastic isn’t biodegradable, takes hundreds of years to decompose and releases toxins into the soil and water in the process. Water-dependent creatures ingest or get tangled in it, often leading to their death. In SC, data from the annual Beach/River Sweeps show that our communities are inundated by plastic and ancillary waste. According to the SC Aquarium, whose Sea Turtle Care Center™ treats many victims of plastics waste, by 2050, oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20 percent of total oil production and 15 percent of the annual carbon budget.
“As U.S. natural gas production has surged and prices have fallen, the plastics industry is looking to ramp up domestic production,” reports the Earth Policy Institute. “Yet using this fossil fuel endowment to make something so short-lived, which can blow away at the slightest breeze and pollutes indefinitely, is illogical - particularly when there is a ready alternative: the reusable bag.”
Thus, plastics are a reasonably sound first target for the pollution solution as is supporting local legislation that attacks the most harmful waste at its source, given that littering fines have failed to do so.
So, what can we do? Don’t use plastic straws. Consider using and taking washable metal strays when you go out to eat along with reusable “to go” containers. Use reusable drink bottles whenever possible. Encourage establishments to adopt a reduced plastic policy. Keep reusable/cloth grocery bags in your car. If you do use plastic bags from time to time, reuse or recycle them at receptacles outside of many stores. Recycle all plastic waste. Never litter and carry a bag with you on walks/outings to pick up any debris. Volunteer to organize, sponsor or participate in local cleanup efforts. Lastly, make your voices heard and support local plastics bans. Tell all S.C. state senators if you feel strongly about the ability to make sound, scientifically valid decisions regarding our community, our state and ultimately our planet to vote against H. 3529 if it comes to the Senate floor. Encourage your friends and family throughout the state to do the same (to contact, see: https://www.scstatehouse.gov/email.php?chamber=S).
Logic and data show that our environment and our global ecosystem depend on smart change and it can begin with you!
Dr. Andrea True Kelly
Volunteer, Daniel Island Beach/River Sweep Site Captain; volunteer, IOP/Sullivan’s Island Sea Turtle Patrol; B.S. in Marine Science (cum laude), University of South Carolina.