If you don’t have reusable bags in your possession by now, it might be time to invest.
Although it’s been a discussion for years, the potential for a plastic bag ban in Beaufort County is starting to look more like a reality.
On Tuesday, as more than 30 concerned residents packed the meeting room and overflowed into the County Council chambers, officials took a major step toward implementing a ban.
During a Natural Resources Committee meeting, members voted to send a draft version of a single-use plastic bag ban ordinance to the County Council for a preliminary hearing, which would be one of three hearing before it was finalized.
A plastic bag ban or fee was one of the five most important policy-making priorities in the county’s 2017 strategic plan.
In its current state, the county’s plastic bag ban draft ordinance, which would ban single-use plastic bags for retail checkout of purchased goods in unincorporated areas of Beaufort County, would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.
Natural Resources Committee members, however, would like the County Council to meet with the mayors and council members of the municipalities throughout the county in order to create a unified approach to the ban.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, who was in attendance, told the committee that he welcomes the opportunity to discuss implementing a ban in the City of Beaufort and believed that the county’s draft ordinance would force his City Council to act more quickly on the issue.
“It’s an incredible first step that the county has taken some leadership on this issue and decided to really start the process of creating a local solution for the problem that is plastic pollution in our environment,” Rikki Parker, Coastal Conservation League’s South Coast Office project manager, said after the meeting. “There’s a direct link between plastic bags and the harm that we see to sea turtles and our sea and shore birds, so its great that Beaufort County has started the process in solving that problem.”
In the last two years, the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston has treated 17 sea turtles that have been affected by plastic pollution.
“We only receive sea turtles that are lucky, who are identified as sick or in trouble, and that we have the honor of taking care of and nursing back to health,” said Albert George, director of conservation at the South Carolina Aquarium. “But seeing that many sea turtles over the last two years with that specific ailment tells us something is going on.”
He said it’s great that the turtles can receive help from professionals at the aquarium, but it would be better if the public could do more to mitigate the risks of plastic pollution.
Citing Beaufort County’s role in protecting migratory sea birds, endangered sea turtles and miles of marshlands, George said, “You could make the argument that this is one of the most important counties not only in the United States but in the world in terms of ecology and biodiversity, so to have the council discussing this (plastic bag ban) and a way that we can mitigate risks is important and encouraging all at the same time.”
Throughout three reads and the consideration process, the ordinance specifics have the potential to be changed. As the current draft is written, though, businesses within the county’s unincorporated area would not be allowed to provide plastic bags. Instead they should “provide or make available to a customer reusable carryout bags or recyclable bags,” according to the draft ordinance.
The ban would not include laundry dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags or bags provided by pharmacists or veterinarians to carry prescription drugs.
Hilton Head Island officials also began formally discussing a similar ban or fee on plastic bags earlier this summer. In July, about 700 people responded to a survey from the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of commerce about plastic bag use. Of those who responded, 71 percent said they believed plastic bags should be banned on Hilton Head, according to the chamber.