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Both Folly Beach and the Isle of Palms have instituted restrictions on plastic bags
South Carolina is on the cusp of becoming the next state to restrict towns and cities from placing bans on plastic bags.
Following a committee vote Wednesday, a bill has been sent to the House floor where state legislators will decide if municipalities have the right to impose regulations on “auxiliary containers.” While the bill includes bags, cups, and containers made out of a number of materials, the debate swirling around the proposed legislation has mainly centered on single-use plastic bags and the communities who have taken steps to limit their use.
Folly Beach took a strong stance last October, passing an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and coolers, and balloons on the beach. City leaders also unanimously passed a law to prohibit the distribution of plastic bags and Styrofoam cups and containers by Folly businesses. This new restriction took effect on January 1 of this year. Those behind the bill that would prohibit other municipalities from following in Folly’s footsteps say that varying regulations between cities could lead to “unnecessary increased costs to retail and food establishments.” Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin, on the other hand, sees the proposed bill as an example of state lawmakers interfering with local municipalities.
“The question that the people of South Carolina should be asking is ‘How big of an infringement is this on home rule?,’” Goodwin says.
Home rule is the right granted within states that allows cities and towns to govern themselves regarding local matters. For example, it’s not uncommon for cities to impose regulations, like noise ordinances, leash laws, and building codes. But the full extent of authority granted to smaller municipalities varies by state, and even within South Carolina, restrictions under home rule have been subject to debate. For Mayor Goodwin, Folly’s ban on plastic bags is well within the city’s rights. And he’s not alone among coastal communities.
“This is a local issue. Home rule is such an important part of what we do in South Carolina, and now they are trying to take that away from us,” says Isle of Palms Mayor Dick Cronin, whose city first passed a ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags in 2015.
Cronin and Goodwin say that a recent addendum to the proposed House bill would preserve the regulations set forth by their communities — only restricting other municipalities from instituting bans moving forward. But the two coastal mayors argue that what may be best for some communities isn’t necessarily best for the entire state.
“It may not be an environmental problem in the Upstate and the Midlands,” says Cronin, “but here on the coast, pollution from plastics is something we have to worry about.”