A new Chinese policy could mean problems for our landfill. But plastic bag bans help

Plastic bags are taking life from Horry County's landfill.
Plastic bags are taking life from Horry County's landfill.

Several coastal South Carolina communities such as Surfside Beach have banned plastic bags, but there are more benefits than just saving the environment, and it has a lot to do with China.

China is one of the largest buyers of recyclable material. Starting Jan. 1, they stopped taking in 24 types of material, including plastic bags and some plastic bottles, in part because some of recyclables were not clean.

"They can’t recycle them, they’re having a problem dealing with this," said Solid Waste Authority Chair Pam Creech. "They stopped us from sending certain plastics, things like plastic bags or water bottles."

Horry County has only one landfill, located on Highway 90, said Creech, adding that regulations prevent the county from developing any more landfills. Banning bags could save much-needed space in the garbage dump, which only has another 30 or 40 years of useful life left.

But a bill in the state legislature aims to stop municipalities from banning plastic bags.

"People in government up at the state are not aware of what it costs us.," said Creech, who added that the fluctuation in the prices paid for materials and the amount of materials rejected by buyers like China could cost the solid waste authority between $50,000 and $80,000 a year.

"If we don’t keep this one open as long as possible and keep our prices down for the residents, there will be a big change in monies in years to come if we don’t have the freedom and democracy to handle what goes on in that landfill," Creech said.

In addition to saving space, the waste authority could save time spent by staff dealing with them.

"We spend a lot of money picking [bags] up off of Highway 90 coming into the landfill," Creech said. "Our equipment gets gummed up, you have to send employees to cut [the bags] out, it’s timely, it’s costly."

Creech said the solid waste authority was voting on a resolution Tuesday night to send to the South Carolina senate in protest of the proposed law to stop local plastic bag bans, and said a county-wide plastic bag ban would be good for the community.

"I think it would be the best thing financially as far as dealing with it and the landfill," she said. "It costs a lot of money to pick up the trash besides the road and a lot of it is plastic bags."

Councilor Johnny Vaught agreed, and said he would support a county-wide plastic bag ban.

"Our landfill is really struggling with the plastic bag issue," Vaught said. "When it gets in our machines that separates all the different kinds of things for recycling, it guames up the works. We don’t want something that forces us to keep plastic bags. We think really once the public gets educated on what that whole situation is doing, that that will take care of itself.

"If that bag ban is not put in place, then we’re going to be losing landfill days."

Council Chair Mark Lazarus said he was in favor of letting local municipalities handle their own bag bans, but said he wasn't ready to take a position on whether a county-wide bag ban was a good idea.

"I need more information," he said.

Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian