Beaufort County’s plastic bag ban starts today. Here’s what you need to know

If you’re a fan of plastic bags, you better be over it by now.

The plastic bag ban in Beaufort County went into effect Nov. 1. It bans “single-use” plastic bags commonly used to carry groceries, takeout food and clothing.

The ordinance banning the bags first passed in the city of Beaufort and the town of Hilton Head Island in January. It was followed by similar action in Bluffton and Port Royal in February.

The county adopted the ban in January and Beaufort County Council gave businesses 10 months to get ready for the change.

Here’s a guide to the ban now that it’s in place:

Can I use old plastic bags if I bring them to the store?

Yes. The ordinance states that shoppers are allowed to use single-use plastic bags if they bring their own.

Stores are no longer providing them, so you might want to keep bags in your car, jacket pocket or purse to bring shopping.

Beaufort County convenience centers do not recycle plastic bags according to the county’s website, which recommends recycling “empty, clean grocery store plastic bags” at “all grocery stores.”

Single-use plastic bag recycling is still available at Kroger, Walmart and Food Lion now that the ban is in effect.

What are my options?

Shoppers may also use reusable bags or paper bags.

The ordinance states businesses should encourage shoppers to bring reusable and paper bags with them, which means stores can market specialized bags to shoppers who forgot their own.

The ordinance defines reusable bags as any bag made of cloth or other washable fabric.

Which plastic bags are still allowed?

The ordinance does not ban:

  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Door-hanger bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Packages of bags for “garbage, pet waste, or yard waste”
  • Pharmacy and veterinary bags that “contain prescription drugs or other medical necessities”

How will my grocery store change?

Beaufort County grocery stores told the Island Packet in October that they have taken different approaches.

  • Food Lion: Stores have switched to paper bags and also sell reusable ones. Stores will post reminders on shopping cart corrals asking customers to bring their own bags, according to the Matt Harakal, a spokesperson for the grocer.

  • Harris Teeter: The grocery chain has phased out plastic bags and does not “intend to introduce any bag-charging programs,” said Danna Robinson, the communications manager for the brand.
  • Piggly Wiggly on Hilton Head: The locally-owned store has ditched its classic paper bags in favor of a thicker, recyclable plastic bag that’s allowed by the ordinance. Store owner Dave Martin told The Island Packet that the bags will cost the store around four times as much as traditional bags. He said that cost will not be passed on to the customer.

  • Kroger Co.: The stores do not charge for customers for paper bags, and spokesperson Felix Turner said Kroger will not increase product prices to cover bag costs. Turner said in October that the store is looking into a ”discounted rate on reusable bag purchases.”

  • Walmart: the national brand did not return repeated requests for information.

  • Publix: The chain also did not return repeated requests for information, but Publix publicizes its sustainability efforts that include “bag reduction goals for every store” and instruction of clerks on “proper bagging techniques.”

What about produce bags?

The ban does not apply to most specialized bags you see inside a grocery store such as produce bags, “bags that contain bulk items” like nuts or candy, bags that contain “frozen foods, meat, or fish,” flower bags or bakery bags.

Will stores charge more for alternative bags?

Short answer: They can.

Many grocery stores are switching over to paper bags so shoppers don’t have to bring their own, according to Rikki Parker of the Coastal Conservation League. Parker said there is nothing in the ordinance that stops businesses from charging shoppers for paper bags to cover the expense.

What happens if a store keeps supplying bags?

The ordinance outlines a penalty system.

A business may be fined up to $100 for the first violation, “$200 for a second violation within any 12-month period” and $500 for every additional violation “within any 12-month period.” Businesses will receive separate penalties for each day that violations continue, according to the ordinance.

Sally Krebs, the sustainable practices coordinator for the town of Hilton Head Island, said that code enforcement officers visited stores to meet with managers and prepare for the ban. Krebs said those same officers will return to be sure stores are in compliance now that the ban is in effect.

What is the point of the plastic bag ban?

The goal is to “improve the environment of the county,” according to the ordinance. The town of Hilton Head Island website adds that the ban will protect coastal marine life.

“Marine birds and sea turtles, for instance, mistake plastic bag pieces as food. Plastics can cause blockages in the animal’s digestive tract and subsequently lead to death,” according to the town website.

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