Reduce the Use of Plastic Bags
The ubiquitous plastic bag has become a mainstay of cheap and convenient bags in our society. Even though they were not introduced by supermarkets until 1977, they are now a significant waste stream.
They can clog our oceans and waterways. Hungry turtles often mistake them for jellyfish, their primary food source. Sharks and other fish routinely ingest them. Sunlight will eventually break them down, but only into smaller pieces of plastic that remain in the ecosystem.
Most plastic bags are petroleum based, which means they don’t readily biodegrade. Instead, they breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces of microplastics that can be ingested by fish, birds, oysters, shrimp and eventually, us. The plastic bag that is typically used for an average of 12 minutes can remain in our ecosystem for hundreds of years. And this includes lakes Marion and Moultrie, the Santee Cooper Lakes, our state’s largest freshwater resource.
To halt the continuous increase in this source of pollution, first reduce the use. The waste mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle” is especially relevant here. For plastic bags, reducing the use is far better than recycling. Data shows that less than 1 percent is currently recycled.
In 2018, Charleston joined the list of South Carolina coastal communities to ban single-use plastic. Thirteen communities, most along our coast, have similar ordinances. A bill in the Legislature that would have restricted local governments from banning single-use plastics died last year in the Statehouse.
State legislators have revived efforts to stop local plastic bag bans. The debate continues with both sides making valid points. One thing we can agree on: Plastic bags are an environmental problem that will not go away until people change behaviors.
The best solution is to not use them unless it is a last resort. Take your own bags with you and use them; not just for groceries, but on any shopping expedition. Keep recyclable multiuse bags in your car or with you all the time. If you still find yourself needing one, insist on minimal bagging by saying “no” to double and triple bagging.
Lastly, recycle them at a reputable recycling location. Responsible companies producing plastic bags report they are increasing the percentage of recycled content in new bags. What you do now makes a difference and you don’t need legislation to change how you use plastic bags. Think of the turtles—and our state’s lakes and rivers.