Plastic Pollution


Plastic Pollution


Plastic litter comes in all shapes and sizes. Pollution from plastic litter is a global problem, but what effect does it have on our South Carolina coast? Single-use plastics include water bottles, food wrappers, to-go containers, straws and utensils, and plastic bags. While all pose a threat to our local waterways, there are limited and varied regulations behind eliminating plastic at the source. 

The impacts of plastic litter along our coastline have been extensively documented and is an environmental concern for water quality, human health, and wildlife. The Conservation League has prioritized reducing plastic litter, particularly through single-use plastics bans, since 2015 and continues to advocate for long-term solutions. 

In fact, plastic bags make up between 15–20% of litter collected in the Charleston area. When littered, single-use plastic bags are likely to end up in our waterways and are often consumed by marine animals who mistake them for food. When left behind in the marsh and exposed to sunlight for too long, the plastic bags begin to breakdown into microplastic particles, or tiny fragments of plastic and toxic material that infiltrate our waterways and work through food webs, eventually reaching humans.  

Plastic bags aren’t just impactful to our marshes and health, but can also be damaging to infrastructure. If incorrectly recycled, single-use plastic bags destroy machinery at recycling facilities or degrade municipal compost. Horry County Solid Waste Authority estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been used to repair machinery clogged by plastic bags. 



Over the past decade, municipalities across South Carolina’s coastal counties have passed various ordinances to reduce sources of single-use plastics. However, these strategies and timelines for implementation vary regionally. As the problem with plastics continues to evolve, the Conservation League is working locally with municipalities and partners to lead initiatives designed to reduce single-use plastic litter. In efforts to support a unified approach to the plastic problem, our team and partners uses the most recent scientific research to inform future directions for our continued work. 

For example, many of our favorite locally-owned businesses have had no problem adopting alternative materials; however, some of the big box chains have taken advantage of an unintentional loop-hole in the ordinance language to provide extra-thick plastic bags for customers by marketing them as “reusable”. However, scientists have shown that the thick plastic bags are increasing the plastic litter in our estuaries and negating the impact of the mandates. Thus, the Conservation League continues to advocate for municipalities to close this loop-hole and show local businesses that plastic bags have no place in Charleston. In the past year, the City of Charleston amended their ordinance to make this important change and several other municipalities have followed. 

Check out what’s banned in your community below!  

Updated May 2024.

Staff Contact

Brooke Blosser · [email protected] · 843.725.2063

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