South Carolina has a litter problem, but single-use plastic litter is in a league of its own because of its extremely harmful health impacts. Communities in our state have worked for decades to tackle all forms of litter through various educational/awareness campaigns, litter sweeps, and multi-million dollar programs. All of these efforts are important, but addressing plastic pollution is a multifaceted approach and research has shown time and again that policy tools like bans actually work. One example close to home has been found in the City of Folly Beach – after the City passed their ban in 2016, Charleston Surfrider calculated a 79% decrease in single-use plastic bags found during their litter sweeps.
The citizens, business owners, mayors, and council members of our state are not interested in the plastics lobby or out-of-state interests dictating the health of our communities. We advocate to protect the rights of local communities who choose to explore the best policy tools to address harmful plastic pollution.
The League anticipated the plastics lobby would attempt a state-level ban on plastic bag bans as soon as Isle of Palms passed its ordinance in 2015. This tactic is one that the plastics lobby (Novolex and the Progressive Bag Alliance) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has attempted in several other states, and is sometimes successful.
Our Columbia team kept an eye on proposed legislation, and we were ready to act with our already-built grassroots team as soon as a bill appeared–H.4793. We utilized our communities and existing coalition partners to stave off the bill’s progression.
After the defeat of H. 4793, a new attempt was made by the plastics lobbyists in 2017 with H.3529. Representative Eric Bedingfield (R-Greenville) and co-sponsors introduced the bill in the House, proposing to prevent municipalities from regulating both disposable and reusable packaging (also known as auxiliary containers). “Regulation” is broadly defined to include the use, disposition, sale, or any imposition of any prohibition, restriction, fee, or taxation. The bill further states that only the General Assembly can impose regulation of auxiliary containers. Pushed by the plastics lobby in several states across the nation with the same boilerplate language, the purpose of the bill is to prevent local councils from implementing local bans or fees on certain plastic products. A direct violation of Home Rule provided in our state’s Constitution, the bill removes the power of local governments in deciding how to address local plastic pollution.
In 2017, the House successfully voted to continue the bill, which essentially paused it until 2018. Unfortunately, in 2018, after a significant push by special interest groups, H. 3529 was passed in the House, despite strong opposition and concerns. The bill passed through Senate committee thereafter and eventually died on the Senate floor because of Sine Die Adjournment, or the end of legislative session and strong senate opposition.
Unsurprisingly, because preemption of plastic regulations is a growing trend across the country, special interest groups once again lobbied for a similar bill to be introduced in the beginning of a new two-year session. In early 2019, Senators Climer (R-York) and Talley (R-Spartanburg), both from the Upstate, sponsored S. 394. The bill is largely the same language as H. 3529 except that instead of grandfathering in existing plastics ordinances, it would undo them, in addition to preventing any new ordinances from being enacted. The Conservation League is strongly opposed to this bill. We believe that plastic pollution is a pervasive issue and that years of litter laws, campaigns, and clean-ups have not been sufficient to address the harmful impacts. Every community deserves the right to solve local problems with local solutions, should they choose. We will continue to fight this bill as it remains a legislative priority for our Conservation Coalition across the state and local governments that are strongly opposed to the bad precedent preemption could set.