Help Center
Click to Home
Go To Search
Minimizing Plastic Bags
The ocean vastly supports human life. 

Humans depend on the ocean for jobs, commerce, trade, food and nourishment, transportation, adventure, discovery and much more.  Since the ocean is vital to the earth's systems it must be protected and managed responsibly to sustain life for future generations: everyone is responsible for caring for the ocean.


Plastic Bag Minimization Committee (2016)
From March 2016 through November 2016, the Plastic Bag Minimization Committee met and was comprised of City of Charleston government officials, concerned local citizens, conservation groups, and business groups, including the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and Lowcountry Local First. 

The coalition that conducted this survey included:
  • Charleston County Environmental Management
  • Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce
  • Charleston Waterkeeper
  • City of Charleston
  • Citizens
  • Medical University of South Carolina 
  • Keep Charleston Beautiful
  • Lowcountry Local First
  • South Carolina Aquarium
  • South Carolina Coastal Conservation League
  • Surfrider Foundation Charleston Chapter

The purpose of this committee was to evaluate options (including education or ordinances) for minimizing plastic bags because of the tendency for single use plastic bags to become litter, whether they are disposed of or recycled, whether properly or improperly.  The Committee’s work was citizen-driven, formulated after community members brought the issue to Mayor John Tecklenburg for study. 

Survey Results
A key part of this evaluation was to understand the perspectives of citizens and business owners.  Thus, an opinion survey on plastic bag usage throughout Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester Counties was created.  Click here to see the full survey results.  Thank you to the nearly 5,000 people who participated in the survey.

Business Results

  • 222 Businesses responded
  • Overall, businesses strongly support a ban, support voluntary actions, and are less supportive of fees. 
  • Businesses overwhelmingly support taking some kind of action, with only 4% in favor of “No Action” taken to address the negative effects of plastic bag pollution.

Citizen Results

  • 4,733 Citizens responded
  • Citizens overwhelmingly, at 96%, support efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags. 
  • 83.8% of respondents would support a ban on single-use plastic bags in their municipality and 45.7% would support a fee regardless of where it goes or how much it is.

From these results, it is clear that both businesses and citizens would like action to be taken to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags.

Public Meetings
The Resiliency & Sustainability Advisory Committee meets in a public setting and regularly discusses plastic pollution and provides opportunities for the public to comment.

  • 11/1/2018:   Resiliency & Sustainability Advisory Committee
  • 9/27/2018:   Resiliency & Sustainability Advisory Committee Public Presentation
  • 6/14/2018:   Sustainability Advisory Committee
  • 10/13/2016: Sustainability Advisory Committee
  • 5/12/2016:   Sustainability Advisory Committee

Plastic Bag Facts
  • American-sourced plastic bags (composed of high density polyethylene or HDPE) are made of a by-product from the production of natural gas and mixed with calcium, low density polyethylene (LDPE) and coloring.  According to a Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Bags by Clemson University, these bags are designed for one use as a grocery bag.   They weigh approximately 6.2 grams and are most often measured in microns, which is one thousandth (.001) of a millimeter. These bags are the lightest of all plastic bags.  (Robert M. Kimmel, Sc.D., Kay D. Cooksey, Ph.D., and Allison Littman.  Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Bags in Common Use in the United States. Clemson University Digital Press, 2014.)
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic carry bags are a petroleum based product.  Typically these bags are thicker than the HDPE t – shirt style bags.  They are 2.25 milliliters or greater in thickness and are not nearly as susceptible to being blown into the water and woods.  Their thickness means they are designed for reuse or to withstand sharper edges. (Robert M. Kimmel, Sc.D., Kay D. Cooksey, Ph.D., and Allison Littman.  Life Cycle Assessment of Grocery Bags in Common Use in the United States. Clemson University Digital Press, 2014.)

Environment
  • Local ordinances work!  Folly Beach passed a plastic bag ban in October 2016.  Pre-ordinance plastic bags collected during a cleanup sweep (avg.): 33 bags, and Post-ordinance plastic bags collected during a cleanup sweep (avg.): 7 bags.  That's an average of 25 fewer bags being collected during sweeps and similar findings have been documented in other municipalities with bans.  (Charleston Surfrider 2018)
  • Plastic bags are among the top five sources of plastic litter collected during beach cleanups in Charleston. 7 tons of all types of plastics were found in Charleston Harbor.  (Wertz, Hope. 2015. Marine debris in Charleston Harbor: Characterizing plastic particles in the field and assessing their effects on juvenile clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) Master’s Thesis. College of Charleston.)
  • Plastic is being consumed by marine animals from zooplankton, the basis of the food chain, to whales.  (Lusher, A. L., Hernandez-Milian, G., Berrow, S., Rogan, E., and O’Connor, I. 2018. Incidence of marine debris in cetaceans stranded and bycaught in Ireland: recent findings and a review of
    historical knowledge. Environmental Pollution 232:467-476. and Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. JW Desforges, M Falbrakth, P Ross. Ingestion of Microplastics by Zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 320-330)
  • Plastic bags break down over time into smaller pieces called microplastics.  Small marine organisms that make up a part of our diet such as bivalves, shrimp, crabs, and fish have been shown to accumulate microplastics in their tissues (Wang, Jundong. 2016 The behaviors of microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Environmental Research 113, 7-17)   (Rochman, Chelsea, M. et. al. (2015) Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption. Scientific Reports 5, 14340)
  • Single use plastic bags (HDPE) when inappropriately discarded, make their ways to waterways.  Concentrations of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) already polluting waterways are easily absorbed by HDPEs and LDPEs.  Therefore, plastic debris may become hazardous to aquatic life the longer it remains in waterways. As the item degrades, its surface area increases, providing even more absorption opportunities.   (Rochman, Chelsea M., Hoh, Eunha, Hentschel, Brian T. and Kaye, Shawn. “Long-Term Field Measurement of Sorption of Organic Contaminants to Five Types of Plastic Pellets: Implications for Plastic Marine Debris” Environmental Science & Technology, pp.1646 - 1654 (2013))
  • Safety Data Sheet for plastic bag’s most prevalent ingredient indicates that 1- Butene, polymer with ethane should not be flushed into surface water or sanitary sewer system as an environmental precaution if it is accidentally released. (LyondellBasell.  Material Safety Data Sheet.  4/17/2015)    

Wildlife
  • Plastic bag pollution affects many species of marine life, including sea turtles that ingest plastic bags after mistaking them for jellyfish. The South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Rescue Program has had twelve patients with plastic debris in their system, with one turtle having consumed at least 12 pieces of plastic bag.  The South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Care Center has documented a diverse collection of plastic items, including large sections of single-use plastic grocery bags, in the gastrointestinal tracts of fourteen stranded sea turtles representing three different species. (South Carolina Aquarium)
  • The most immediate threats posed by plastic bags are entanglement, consumption, and smothering of marine organisms. (Bergmann M., Butow L., & Klages M. (Eds.) (2015) Marine Anthropogenic Litter. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing)

Human Health
  • Plastic bags break down over time into smaller pieces called microplastics.  Small marine organisms that make up a part of our diet such as bivalves, shrimp, crabs, and fish have been shown to accumulate microplastics in their tissues (Wang, Jundong. 2016 The behaviors of microplastics in the marine environment. Marine Environmental Research 113, 7-17)   (Rochman, Chelsea, M. et. al. (2015) Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption. Scientific Reports 5, 14340)
  • Research has shown that humans are ingesting microplastics, but the potential effects of doing so have yet to be thoroughly studied.  (Van Cauwenberghe, Lisbeth, & Janssen, Carl R. (2014) Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environmental Pollution, 193, 65-70)
  • Plastic is being consumed by marine animals from zooplankton, the basis of the food chain, to whales.  (Lusher, A. L., Hernandez-Milian, G., Berrow, S., Rogan, E., and O’Connor, I. 2018. Incidence of marine debris in cetaceans stranded and bycaught in Ireland: recent findings and a review of
    historical knowledge. Environmental Pollution 232:467-476. and Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. JW Desforges, M Falbrakth, P Ross. Ingestion of Microplastics by Zooplankton in the Northeast Pacific Ocean. Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 320-330)

Waste and Energy
  • Charleston County’s recycling program does not accept plastic bags. Plastic bags wrap around processing equipment at the recycling center, causing daily shutdowns for workers to remove tangled bags.   (Findlay, Prentiss  “Plethora of Plastic Bags Plague County Recycling Center” Post and Courier,  8 October 2014)  
  • Americans use and throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil (Clap & Swanston, 2009); just two plastic bags require 990 kilojoules of natural gas, 240 kilojoules of petroleum and 160 kilojoules of coal (Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment, 1990).
  • Charleston County’s recycling program does not accept plastic bags (Findlay, 2014). Plastic bags wrap around processing equipment at the recycling center, causing daily shutdowns for workers to remove tangled bags.
  • Participating retail locations accept plastic bags for recycling, but only 1% of plastic bags are returned in the U.S. (Moore, Charles James. "Synthetic Polymers in the Marine Environment: A Rapidly Increasing, Long-term Threat." Environmental Research 108.2 (2008): 131-39. Web).
  • Plastic bags in the United States can be made from recycled plastic. The content of HDPE plastic bags made in the United States can include 15  to 30 % of their content as recycled plastic.    (Mark Daniel, Novolex.  Email. September 14, 2016)
  • Plastic bag and film waste constitutes an estimated .3% to the 2013 municipal waste stream in the United States.  (Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery,  Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures – Assessing Trends in Material Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States, June 2015, Table 7, p. 49) https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/2013_advncng_smm_rpt.pdf
  • Plastic bags are one component of the plastic film data.  221 million pounds of mixed plastic film was recovered in the US in 2014.  This recovery quantity was down by 11% from 2013.  Overall 45 % of this quantity was recovered for recycling and the remainder was exported.  (Moore Recycling Associates Inc., 2014 National Post Consumer Plastic Bag & Film Recycling Report for the American Chemistry Council, January 2016)
  • During the SC Beach Sweep, of all the material collected (cigarette butts, metal, glass, fireworks, diapers, construction materials, lighters and more) single use plastic bags are routinely one of the 11 most likely items to be retrieved in the state’s coastal counties.  Over 40% of all plastic grocery bags found during the South Carolina Beach Sweep/River Sweep in 2015 were found in Charleston County.  During the 2015 Beach Sweep/River Sweep the following locations had the highest numbers of plastic grocery bags found. Source: Ocean Conservancy.
Kiawah Island (100 bags)
Alberta Long Lake (99 bags)
Waterfront Park, Charleston Harbor (92 bags)
Sullivan’s Island (73 bags)                                   
  • During the New Market Clean Up on October 22nd, 2016, 397 single use plastic bags were collected.   (Surfrider and Keep Charleston Beautiful)

Economic
  • Novolex manufactures single use plastic and is headquartered in Hartsville, South Carolina.  No plastic bags are manufactured in South Carolina by Novolex.  (Mark Daniel, Novolex.  Personal Interview. August 12, 2016)
  • The economic activities most clearly tied to the state’s natural resource base (not including agriculture) sustain $30 billion dollars in economic impact when measured in terms of annual state output—the total annual value of goods and services associated with natural resources related business activities. This total state impact supports 236,000 jobs.  (South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, “The Economic Impact of South Carolina’s Natural Resources,” p. ii, 2009.)
  • The plastics industry in SC contributes more than $107 million to the South Carolina economy.  (The Plastics Industry Trade Association, “Size and Impact of the U. S. Plastics Industry”, 2015 p. 42)
  • The Plastics Industry Trade Association reports that 400 jobs are supported by the plastic bag manufacturing industry in South Carolina.  They also report that $0 in production worker wages, reflecting that no plastic bags are made in South Carolina.  (The Plastics Industry Trade Association, “Size and Impact of the U. S. Plastics Industry”, 2015 p. 42).
  • Not all plastic resin bags in South Carolina are sourced from American manufacturers.  In 2015 approximately 31% of plastic bags used in the US are purchased from outside the US.  (US International Trade Commission and US Department of Commerce)