COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin says he will be asking city leaders to learn more about plastic.
“I will ask City Council’s Environment and Infrastructure Committee to study the effects of plastics on our environment at our next City Council meeting," Benjamin said via email.
A WIS investigation revealed that City of Columbia drinking water contained microscopic pieces of plastic.
It was found that like many cities around the country, Columbia’s water filtration system could not remove all of the broken down plastic waste in our waterways.
Some proponents believe action like banning single-use plastics such as straws, or plastic bags, would be a step toward limiting the excess litter and waste that enters our rivers and lakes in the Midlands.
Despite his new call to the city council, Mayor Benjamin added there are currently no plans to implement a plastic bag ban in the city.
Councilwoman-at-Large Tameika Isaac Devine stated they would likely follow the county’s lead on the issue. That, however, is not moving anywhere fast. Just last summer, Richland County officials explored a plastic bag ban.
It is a topic that County Council Member Bill Malinowski says the legal team is still looking into.
Mayor Benjamin also spoke in depth about the topic in a December interview our microplastic investigation, saying: “This discussion around plastics is real. I’m a father of young children and I promise you, you can’t come home any day and not have a good and strong discussion around our role in protecting the environment for them."
He added, “the amount of plastic that our country, and particularly some developing nations in the Pacific Rim are contributing to the litter problem, it’s no question affecting our oceans. It’s real and it’s something we ought to address. It’s not something we’ve spent as much time on as we’ve worked to address a number of other societal challenges, but something that will be worth discussing down the road."
If Columbia were to move forward in taking action on plastic, the city would join a number of South Carolina cities and communities that have taken action:
Also recently included, the Richland County town of Arcadia Lakes.
Mayor Benjamin did address some challenges, pointing toward the state house.
“Our greatest challenge doesn’t come from industry, it doesn’t come from council, it usually comes from the state legislature up the street, attempting to preempt any activity that we might want to have,” Benjamin said.
There is currently a Senate bill that would overturn most current municipal plastic bans in South Carolina and leave further decisions on the topic up to the general assembly:
Benjamin also mentioned the plastics industry saying, “the challenge regarding the plastics industry is something that obviously, we ought to talk to the plastics industry about.”
To this point, Benjamin said they have taken steps in city government to encourage people to do the right thing like pushing an aggressive recycling program.
“It requires us as citizens to step up and make sure that our practices, our purchasing practices, our priorities are in line so that we’re not supporting industries that in fact pollute our environment," Benjamin said. "It’s a collective response, that doesn’t require always a municipal law to try and change something, takes a lot more than that.”
The next Columbia City Council meeting will be on March 19.