If you’re planning to do your grocery shopping in Bluffton, you might want to pack an extra tote in the future.
After some initial controversy, Bluffton Town Council unanimously passed its plastic bag ban Tuesday night.
Bluffton joins the Town of Hilton Head Island, the City of Beaufort and Beaufort County, which each passed a bag ban ordinance last month. Port Royal, the last municipality in the county to take a final vote, is set to make its decision Wednesday.
The move by Bluffton wasn’t seamless and required the town to back down from a decision they had taken a month prior.
At the Bluffton Town Council meeting in January, council members added an amendment that would have allowed restaurants to provide customers with plastic “doggie bags” for their leftovers.
The problem was that the countywide plastic bag ban ordinance was written so it would only take effect if all four municipalities adopted “the same or a substantially similar ordinance” to the county.
After hearing about Bluffton’s amendment, County Council members deemed that the town’s ordinance would be “substantially different” from the county and therefore stop the countywide ordinance from taking effect.
Still, Beaufort County assistant attorney Chris Inglese recommended that County Council pass its ordinance, which it did on Jan. 22, “and put the ball in Bluffton’s court.”
“My guess is that they don’t have the intention to make this fail,” Inglese told council members at Jan. 22 meeting.
This gave Bluffton an ultimatum of sorts — adopt the county’s ordinance or risk jeopardizing the whole countywide initiative.
In response, Bluffton Town Council decided to do away with the “doggie bag” amendment and adopt the ordinance as written by the county, which does not allow for restaurants’ use of take-home plastic bags.
“Based on feedback received by the county between the first reading and second reading, those amendments have been removed. The ordinance as it reads now ... reads exactly the same as the county ordinance,” said Scott Marshall, Bluffton’s deputy town manager, during Tuesday’s meeting.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka claimed the amendments were intended as a way to make enforcement easier for officers.
“I just wanted our officers to be clear on what they’re enforcing. That was my only reason behind it,” she said. “I still feel that it was not substantive. I really don’t. But the county did.
“They agreed if we changed one word of it that we’d mess it up and this council (Bluffton Town Council) didn’t want to mess it up ... so we passed it tonight as the county asked us to.”
Sulka said she thinks the transition from plastic to paper or reusable bags will be an educational opportunity for some residents.
“We absolutely know the environment is first and foremost here,” she said. “And our average age is so young … talking to our younger residents, they don’t even use plastic bags, so I think it’s just more educational for my generation to know there is another way and if it’s harmful to the environment we’ve got to do what we can.”
County Councilman Brian Flewelling, who spoke out against Bluffton’s initial amendment, said he was happy with Bluffton’s decision to “cooperate with everyone.”
“I’m grateful that Bluffton has decided to tie their ordinance to ours,” he said. “... They did a good job. They listened to us and we listened to them.”
Flewelling said the biggest victory for Beaufort County and the four municipalities is that they got ahead of statewide legislation that might block local governments from creating plastic bag bans.
“The biggest problem for me was that the county and municipalities needed to be able to determine what they could do in their own jurisdiction before the state passed it’s statewide program (ban on plastic bag bans) ... The fact that we could get ours in place and get exceptions for the county is a great thing.
“I think I’ll send them (Bluffton) a thank you card today.”
Details about the countywide plastic bag ban
Beaufort County’s plastic bag ban will prohibit all business establishments on the island from providing customers with single-use plastic bags.
As it is currently written, the ordinance will go into effect eight months after the last municipality passes its ordinance.
Any business establishment that violates the ordinance would face a penalty up to $100 for a first violation; $200 for a second violation within any 12-month period; and $500 for each additional violation within any 12-month period.