For those who still can’t imagine a grocery store trip without plastic bags, it’s time to start picturing the concept.
On Tuesday night, Hilton Head Island Town Council became the first municipality within the county to unanimously pass a new ordinance banning plastic bags on the island.
Hilton Head’s ordinance, which will go into effect eight months after Beaufort County Council passes their similar ordinance, will prohibit all business establishments on the island from providing customers with single-use plastic bags.
“It’s great to see all of the work of our partners and the citizens come to fruition,” said Rikki Parker, South Coast Project manager for the Coastal Conservation League. “It’s a great example of how the county and four municipalities can accomplish something really great for our environment and our community as a whole.”
Bluffton, Beaufort and Port Royal each unanimously passed their similar ordinances on first reading but have not taken the matter up for a second and final vote yet.
Bluffton Town Council was the last municipality in the county to consider the ban. The council members all approved of the ordinance Tuesday but added an amendment that would allow the use of takeout bags from restaurants.
Beaufort County Council was the first agency to take action toward implementing a plastic bag ban, but decided to wait on its third and final vote until Bluffton had a first reading.
“I don’t mind being last and I don’t mind being first, as long as we all arrive at the same destination,” Council Councilman Brian Flewelling said. “We want to make sure all our partners are heading in the same direction.”
County Council’s final vote on the ordinance is scheduled to take place Jan. 22. Beaufort City Council is expected to take a final vote on Jan. 23, and Port Royal and Bluffton are expected to consider the ordinance for a final time at their February meetings.
Not everyone is in favor of the county-wide ordinance, though.
County Councilman Jerry Stewart — the only elected official in the county who has voted against the ordinance — thinks the ban is a done deal but believes it is the wrong way to address the problem, he said.
“Educate the people, that’s the solution,” he said. “... The grocers, the merchants, they’ll start to understand the problem. The solution is just to say ‘No, I don’t want plastic.’ But don’t ask me to pass a law banning something like that.”
David Martin, owner of Piggly Wiggly in Coligny Plaza on Hilton Head, said he has tried to be proactive but still is not sure how he will offset the additional costs of switching from plastic to paper bags.
Martin is considering creating reusable tourist bags that customers can purchase at checkout to pass off some costs to certain products, he said.
His biggest concern, however, is educating visitors about the ban.
“I’m not worries about the locals ... They’ll change their patterns eventually. But the transitional period is what I’m most worries about,” Martin said. “I’d like to see help in educating our guests who come and help us have such a great life down here.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of confusion at first and burden on corporate businesses. But we’ll figure it out. We always have.”
‘Something essential to the success of this ordinance’
Parker, who has been the driving force and lead advocate behind the countywide ordinance, said the Coastal Conservation League plans to dedicate time to educating the public before the ordinance takes effect.
“It (education) is something essential to the success of this ordinance,” Parker said. “Over the next eight months, we want to help make sure everyone knows and is on board (with the ban).”
For instance, the organization might host a reusable bag giveaway day at local libraries and churches. “This way people are prepared and have access to reusable bags before the ordinance goes into effect,” she said.
The cities of Folly Beach and Isle of Palms were the first in South Carolina to enact a plastic bag ban.
Folly Beach City administrator Spencer Wetmore said the town used extensive efforts to educate the public before the ban went into effect.
The city hired a graphic designer to create a large sign about the ordinance to be displayed as tourists drove in, ordered some reusable canvas bags with the city logo and distributed them at citywide events and created plaques about the ordinance that businesses could put at checkout counters, which read “Help our businesses go green, please take a bag only if necessary.”
The town also distributed the information as often as possible on the website and their social media accounts.
“It worked as well as it can in a heavily tourist area,” Wetmore said. “Our perennial challenge is educating a new public every single week ... But I’ve never gotten a complaint, so I’ll hopefully take that as a success.”
Hilton Head Town Councilman David Ames said that conceptually, the town’s educational efforts will be done in partnership with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, the Coastal Conservation League, and maybe even planned unit developments and rental agencies.
“It’s not going to be an effort only by the town, but a collaboration,” Ames said.
Ames, who voted in support of the town’s plastic bag ban, said it demonstrates a general recognition that the area’s environment is a big part of the appeal from visitors.
“From Hilton Head Island’s standpoint, there’s a legacy of our environmental stewardship, and I believe the plastic bag ban is consistent certainly with that and the concern for the natural environment,” he said.
The ban does not include laundry dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags or bags provided by pharmacists or veterinarians to carry prescription drugs.
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.