Plastic bag ban on hold in Lexington County

A bid to ban plastic bags commonly used by retailers is in limbo in Lexington County.

“Nobody knows what to do about the situation right now,” County Council chairman Scott Whetstone of Swansea said.

The proposal is on hold indefinitely after running into multiple challenges:

  • No indication from store owners that the idea is acceptable, even if it drives up their cost of operation a bit.
  • Realization that the step could proliferate litter and collide with free speech guarantees since it would apply to distribution of newspapers and advertising sometimes bagged as protection from rain.
  • Suggestions that the idea is largely symbolic since most stores are inside the county’s 14 municipalities, who set their rules on bag use independently.

Those concerns mean “it’s going to be a tough sell,” said Councilwoman Erin Long Bergeson of Chapin, the main advocate of the ban.

Supporters call the step a way to reduce litter along roads as well as keep Lake Murray, the lower Saluda and Edisto rivers and streams that feed them clean and healthy.

It’s unclear how stores in the county now use plastic bags for shoppers’ purchases. There is no county business license, although two-thirds of communities in the county have that requirement as a condition for a firm to operate.

Unofficial estimates by various commercial experts suggest there are about 22,000 businesses in the 758-square-mile county. Those projections don’t spell out how many typically package purchases in plastic bags.

Batesburg-Leesville officials estimate 150 businesses in town – about bout two of every seven – probably use plastic bags. Business leaders at the Batesburg-Leesville Chamber of Commerce haven’t discussed the proposed ban yet, president Mike Taylor said. 

County Councilman Larry Brigham of Batesburg-Leesville is weighing the idea, saying it could be beneficial for the environment but burdensome for many businesses.

Environmental groups call the ban a way to eliminate a major pollutant because the bags do not decompose easily. Bags often end up as litter, torn into tiny particles in drinking water while clogging storm drains and clinging together to create trash rafts in waterways, advocates of the ban say.

So far, 17 communities and counties in South Carolina have approved a ban, including the Camden and Arcadia Lakes in the Midlands. Neighboring Richland County has given initial approval to the idea, requiring stores to use either bags that are reusable or made of recycled paper. But Richland officials are not rushing forward to put the requirement in place soon.

Business groups are pushing back against bans, asking the legislature to bar the idea and nullify those adopted to avert what some retailers say will be a confusing patchwork of where bags are permissible and where they are not.