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So long plastic bags. Here's when Beaufort County is getting rid of them for good.

Ready to switch to reusable grocery bags? Here’s how to keep them clean

On Oct. 14, Beaufort County's single-use plastic bag ban will go into effect and shoppers are being encouraged to switch to reusable bags. Here's a guide on what you need to know to keep your bags clean and avoid contaminating your food with dirt
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On Oct. 14, Beaufort County's single-use plastic bag ban will go into effect and shoppers are being encouraged to switch to reusable bags. Here's a guide on what you need to know to keep your bags clean and avoid contaminating your food with dirt

Beaufort County residents and visitors accustomed to taking their groceries home in plastic bags are in for a rude awakening soon.

On Wednesday night, Port Royal unanimously passed its plastic bag ban ordinance, making it the last municipality in the county to give it approval.

With Port Royal’s vote, Beaufort County became the first in South Carolina to adopt a countywide ban on the widely used commodity.

The ordinance prohibits any business establishment in Beaufort County from providing single-use plastic carryout bags to customers. Instead, businesses are asked to encourage customers to use reusable carryout bags or recyclable paper bags.

Businesses have been given eight months — until Oct. 14 — to stop providing plastic bags at checkout counters. Some businesses may choose to implement the ban sooner than that date, depending on when they run out of their current supply of plastic bags, according to County Councilman Brian Flewelling.

“In the meantime, we’ll be launching public awareness campaigns and helping local environmental organizations, like the Port Royal Sound Foundation and Spanish Moss Trail, ramp up and get the word out,” Flewelling said.

The last time Beaufort County Council and all four municipal governing bodies adopted a countywide ordinance was in 2016 when they approved an animal control ordinance, which requires all pit bulls and pit mixes be altered in an effort to fight the overpopulation burdening shelters.

“I think Beaufort County has come a long way from the days of 15 or 20 years ago,” he said. “We have real cooperation between the municipalities and the county government.”

Supporters of the ban say it will be instrumental in protecting local wildlife, as well as Beaufort County’s tourism industry.

“Single-use plastic bags are incredibly harmful to our local environment and wildlife, which is why it’s so important that Beaufort County — a county that’s 50 percent water — passed this (the plastic bag ban),” said Rikki Parker, South Coast Project manager for the Coastal Conservation League.

The Ocean Conservancy, a national nonprofit, calls plastic bags the second most harmful type of marine debris, coming in just behind discarded fishing gear.

Parker said that sea turtles can suffocate from ingesting plastic bags and sea and shore birds often find themselves entangled in the bags. After making their way into waterways, the products break down into micro-plastics, are ingested by fish and eventually eaten by people, she said.

“Not only do they (single-use plastic bags) have the potential ability to harm human health but they harm our fisheries as well,” Parker said.

Not everyone saw the countywide ban as the way to fix this environmental problem.

County Councilman Jerry Stewart — the only elected official in Beaufort County to vote against the ban — said that simply banning a product would not fix the problem. Instead, he said that those members of the public who were responsible for discarding the commodity improperly should be better educated.

Not all plastic bags will be outlawed when the ordinance takes effect in October.

Exemptions to the ban include: laundry dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, bags intended for pet or yard waste, bags provided by pharmacists or veterinarians, bags for bulk items such as nuts, produce and candy, bags containing frozen foods, fish, meat or baked goods and bags used to wrap flowers.

Any business owner that violates the ordinance will be written a warning notice initially. An owner can be charged up to $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense within a 12-month period and $500 for any additional violation within a 12-month period.

Maggie Angst: 843-706-8137, @maggieangst

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