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A reusable carryout bag is a carryout bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse with a minimum lifetime of 125 uses.
Language describing the bag's ability to be reused and recycled should be highly visible on the exterior of the bag, and a minimum thickness of four (4) mils is required for plastic reusable bags.
Reusable bags also need to be capable of being cleaned.
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You can help your community by first providing assistance and information to establishments about the new regulations and encouraging managers to visit our resources online at www.charleston-sc.gov/plastic. The webpage is designed specifically to help facilitate a smooth transition with information on the new code requirements that we hope businesses will find helpful.
If you find establishments are not responsive to your outreach and warning efforts, please report potential violators ONLINE via the City’s Citizen Service Desk web portal at https://www.charleston-sc.gov/879/Citizen-Support-Center. The web portal has an option to upload photographs if you choose to include any.
On January 1, 2020 the ordinance went into effect and became enforceable.
The ordinance was signed into law on November 27, 2018 with an effective date of January 1. 2020. This offered a 13-month grace period to support a smooth transition and allow time for businesses and organizations to best plan ahead for enforcement starting on January 1, 2020.
The ordinance applies to all organizations and businesses within the City of Charleston, including any City of Charleston facility or property, City sponsored event, or other event (public or private) within City limits.
This includes but is not limited to:
Yes. Regulations apply to all sales, activities and events within the City of Charleston limits, including, in City facilities and on City property.
This includes public events and private events within City limits. For example, a vendor for a wedding held within City limits would need to comply with the regulations.
This ordinance is designed to protect the engine of our economy and livability of our City so businesses, particularly those influenced by tourism, and residents can continue to enjoy what the beauty and bounty of Charleston's waterways offer for generations to come.
These new measures are about cleaner streets and waterways, preserving the beauty and livability of Charleston for generations to come.
More than 302 million tons of plastics are discarded worldwide each year1. Plastic waste ends up on Charleston’s streets and 7.6 tons are in Charleston Harbor alone.2
As many as 100,000 marine animals have been injured or killed by entanglement with or ingestion of plastic waste.3
Plastics never fully biodegrade, but when pieces of these bags and containers are eaten by animals, the plastic enters our food chain.
You may view the ordinance online at www.charleston-sc.gov/plastic.
The original ordinance, which was made into law on November 27, 2018, is linked here.
An amendment to the Exemptions Section of the original ordinance was approved on September 24, 2019, and is linked here.
After January 1, 2020, operations will be required to stop using: Single-use plastic carryout bags, Non-Recyclable and Non-Compostable Disposable Food Containers and Service Ware, and polystyrene products.
Plastic Single-Use Carryout Bags
Less than 4 mils thick
Intended for one-time use to transport purchases
Not included in exemptions outlined below
Non-Recyclable and Non-Compostable Disposable Food Containers and Service Ware
Polystyrene (also known as plastic foam or StyrofoamTM) and other non-recyclable and non-compostable food service ware, carryout containers and food packaging materials including —
Operations also will be required to stop selling or renting polystyrene:
Please note, there are specialty items that are not restricted or are exempt from restrictions.
Yes. The following specialty items are not restricted or are exempt from restrictions —
For a complete list, please see the full ordinance.
By definition in the City's ordinance, RECYCLABLE shall mean any material that is accepted by the Charleston County recycling program.
Visit the Charleston County website for more information on materials accepted for recycling at https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/environmental-management/recycle-what.php.
If you have specific questions about a particular product not listed on their website, please contact the Charleston County Recycling Center at:
Establishments will be able to choose from numerous affordable alternatives and certain specialty items will still be allowed.
Reusable Bags and Recyclable Paper Bags
Recyclable Paper Bags
Recyclable or Compostable Disposable Food Containers and Service Ware
Food service ware, containers and packaging made out of materials that are compostable** or are accepted by the Charleston County recycling program*** including —
**Use of compostable products must be combined with an active composting program to be considered acceptable. Visit the Charleston County website for more information on materials accepted for composting (https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/environmental-management/compost-program.php) and ***recycling (https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/environmental-management/recycle-what.php).
**All service ware must be free of any food residue to be accepted for recycling in Charleston County.
Reusable bags and reusable food service ware are ideal, as possible.
Remember to bring your own reusable bags and encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags and/or own reusable food service ware (such as takeout containers, reusable straws, etc.,) as this is the best way to reduce the amount of waste that goes to the landfill or ends up in the environment.
When disposable food service ware is necessary, encouraging the proper disposal of compostable and recyclable materials is important. If an organization provides compostable containers, ensure the vessel to compost is available. Also remember, all disposable service ware must be free of any food residue to be accepted for recycling in Charleston County. If food waste cannot be easily removed, your business may be a better candidate for compostable products.
Establishments are allowed to use up stock on hand if they seek out and obtain approval of an exemption, which will require proof of a purchase date and ideally prior to November 27, 2019 when the ordinance originally passed.
Alternatively, chain stores with outlets outside of Charleston can consider shipping their bag inventory to those outlets. Smaller stores with stocks likely to last a while will probably find their customers wondering why they are still using plastic bags. Faced with customer concern, they may choose to donate their remaining stock to a food bank.
If you can't reuse them or donate them, please bring them to a grocery store that accepts plastic bags for recycling. Please note, plastic bags contaminate Charleston County's Recycling Centers, so please do NOT place them in your blue carts.
The intention of this ordinance is not to hurt our business community. You may request an exemption at any time for any unique circumstances that may arise.
Establishments may file for a temporary exemption if you qualify for one of the below reasons. Read below to see if you qualify, and how to apply.
Applications for an Undue Hardship or Practical Difficulty (not including excess inventory) should prove proactive efforts have been made and be substantiated with factual evidence of why the hardship or difficulty exists despite best efforts to uphold the spirit of the ordinance.
Applications for excess inventory should include proof excess inventory was purchased prior to 11/27/18, the date of ratification. The City may ask for information periodically on inventory reduction and remaining stock.
If you qualify for either of the above reasons, the next step is for you to complete an exemption application(Temporarily Suspended due to Covid-19). Make sure to explain clearly why you feel like you qualify for an exemption. Please also remember to attach documents that support your claim. Please note, approved requests may be posted publicly on the City’s webpage.
No! Only single-use plastic bags with the purpose of a one-time use to transport purchases (typically used at point of sale / checkout) are prohibited.
Plastic bags such as produce bags, bread bags, newspaper bags, dry cleaning/garment bags, garbage bags, pet waste bags, bags used for charity or emergency and medical supplies, bags that are used inside stores for bulk foods and other items, bags for meats and produce, bags for unwrapped bakery goods, and bags for flowers and plant wrappings are all still allowed.
By definition in the City's ordinance:
Visit the Charleston County website for more information on materials accepted for composting and information on how to participate in Charleston County’s Composting Program: https://www.charlestoncounty.org/departments/environmental-management/compost-program.php
Yes. Customers may bring any type of bag with them to transport purchases. The City encourages residents to remember their reusable bags!
No. Per the ordinance, please provide your customers an option to transport their purchases free of charge (per the ordinance) and please encourage the use of reusable bags.
No. Paper bags are not required to be made with recycled-content, but the City encourages establishments to use recycled-content paper bags as possible.
The Livability and Tourism Department has primary responsibility for enforcement of the regulations.
If a code enforcement officer determines that a violation has occurred, a written warning accompanied with outreach about the law and what is needed to comply will typically be a first step. If it happens again or becomes clear a retailer is intentionally not complying they can be fined.
Yes! The City of Charleston is collaborating closely with nearby jurisdictions to ensure our ordinances are similar so it is easy for businesses with multiple locations to plan ahead.
Starting January 1, 2020, the new regulations will take effect in the City of Charleston, Town of James Island, and in the unincorporated areas of Charleston County. These same regulations are already in effect in the Town of Mount Pleasant, as of April 2019.