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Charleston, South Carolina: A new single-use plastics ban is already decreasing pollution

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Cities and states around the country have taken steps to ban certain single-use plastics -- straws, plastic bags, polystyrene take-out containers and more. These policies are aimed at reducing the flow of plastic into our waterways and the waste stream. But do they work? 

In this blog series, we present four examples of single-use plastics bans that are reducing plastic pollution. 

Plastic production and the disposable culture fostered by plastic manufacturers in America create serious environmental harm. In 2010, the United States produced 0.3 million metric tons of plastic pollution, and somewhere between 0.04 and 0.11 million metric tons of this plastic ended up in the ocean.

The coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina, signed a plastics ban into law on November 27, 2018 that bans polystyrene takeout boxes, plastic bags, plastic straws and stirrers, and plastic cups. The ordinance details that recyclable or compostable alternatives should be used, with only minor exemptions granted. Businesses were given 13 months to prepare, and enforcement of the ordinance began in January 2020. Those that violate the ban are subject to a fine and the possibility of a business licence suspension.

In 2016, Charleston County trash cleanups collected 542 plastic grocery bags, 875 straws or stirrers and 377 foam takeout containers. In 2019 – after the ban went into effect but before enforcement began – a significantly more widespread cleanup event collected only 463 grocery bags, 329 straws or stirrers and 306 foam containers. The growth of the trash cleanup program alongside the decrease in collected trash shows the Charleston ban’s clear effectiveness at mitigating plastic waste.

Photo by Brian Yurasits on Unsplash