As Richland County considers plastic bag ban, pro-plastic group weighs in

As Richland County considers plastic bag ban, pro-plastic group weighs in

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - At the Columbia Canal and Riverfront Park, just feet away from one of Columbia's most breathtaking views where the Broad River forms a roaring cascade is a view that'll take your breath away in a very different way: a petri dish of pollution that's been snagged from the Broad River by the entry gate of Columbia's canal.

"A lot of water bottles. And one Burnett's bottle," said Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler as he surveyed the pallete of floating garbage.

There are lots of bottles, about five basketballs, but there's something else too littering that spot and many other spots Stangler and his volunteers clean up.

"When we go through and we look at the numbers of what we collected and we talk to our volunteers, consistently the most common item that we find are the single-use plastic bags in the streams, in the river, along our waterways," he said.

For that reason, Stangler is a fan of what Richland County Council is trying to accomplish: a plastic bag ban. Days ago, Councilmen Bill Malinowski and Norman Jackson introduced the idea.

"Certainly, the trash that falls in our rivers here makes its way down the ocean -- it can be a real problem there -- but it can be a serious problem right here in our own backyard," added Stangler.

But not everyone agrees, and that includes the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a pro-plastic bag lobbying group.

"Any place that has done a waste or litter characterization study, has shown that plastic retail bags make up less than 1 percent of litter and waste, in most cases," said Executive Director Matt Seaholm, who believes most bans are driven by environmentalist groups with agendas.

However, Seaholm said he has nothing against paper bags or even reusable ones.

"What we do is we fight to maintain that consumer choice," he said.

That's a choice that includes plastic.

Back at the canal, Stangler says he's heard that argument before.

"At the end of the day, they're just trying to make sure that their industry, which produces something that pollutes our environment, doesn't have to take a hit on their bottom line," he said.

As for Richland County's possible ban, it's not a reality yet. Tuesday night, council gave county staff the go-ahead to draw up an ordinance -- an ordinance that will require the committee's approval, and if it gets that, council will have to vote on it several times before it's official.

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