It wasn’t long ago that the General Assembly, invoking the doctrine of Home Rule, placed the issue before local jurisdictions (counties and municipalities) of whether to restrict, regulate or outright ban single-use plastic bags.
The issue had come to the fore because heartrending photographs of dead marine mammals, whales and dolphins, as well as turtles and other critters, began to infiltrate our media feeds. These animals were simply stuffed with various plastic items, mainly single-use plastic grocery bags.
In our lovely portion of the Lowcountry, we have had a long history of protecting our waters. Over at least the past two decades, we have made vigorous, and often costly, efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of our estuarine waters. As a community, we were convinced of the essential connection between water quality and our quality of life, not to mention the value of our homes and other property.
As an elected member of Bluffton Town Council, I have been a part of the regulatory underpinning of these efforts. Well before coming on council, I was also a vocal supporter of clean water. With the above-referenced photos, we were now faced with not only protection of estuarine waters, but the ocean waters with which they intersect.
At least momentarily, we were heartened by the fact that plastic pollution was at least visible; it was readily managed, with proper regulation. It all seemed fairly straightforward: Take the plastic bags out of the picture, and we would make progress.
Then, research from around the world pounded on our door. Plastic is incredibly complex, and for the most part, does not break down as we normally think of decomposition.
Plastic, over time, just becomes micro-particles, and seems to have become an unfortunate food source for the microscopic critters that are the basis of our food chain. It also has some disturbing impacts, such as being concentrated in food species, particularly filter feeders – such as the best oysters in the world, May River Oysters.
Remember this term: Endocrine disruptors. Now, do your own research.
Members of our municipal councils are used to complex issues relating to water. In Bluffton, we hold workshops, invite smart folks who know the particulars to present, and we take notes – voluminous notes.
We did our process of workshops and information sharing. Consequently, after getting strong consensus, we passed the Plastic Bag Ban. I have no doubt it was the right thing to do.
Recently, I have gotten a ton of reports that some merchants are doing what might be called a “workaround” of our bag ban. These are mainly Big Box Stores. They are not our neighbors in any real sense. Their dollars go home to other states.
They have created bags of somewhat thicker millage, and, in my view, have disingenuously declared them “reusable.”
My request to you: Do your research. Then ask questions of the managers of the non-conforming merchants.
My request to fellow elected officials: Do your own research, ask questions. Write op-eds.
At the least, this “workaround” business is insulting, and certainly not what was intended.
Councilman, Town of Bluffton