One Grand Strand town wants to ban plastic bags

Operators crush trash at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority landfill outside of Conway.
Operators crush trash at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority landfill outside of Conway. The Sun News

Plastic bags may soon be banned from the Town of Surfside Beach, after the town council passed the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday night.

“I think banning plastic bags is a good thing,” Surfside Beach Mayor Bill Childs said. “I think this is a good thing that Mrs. Samples has brought forward, and I certainly hope that council does support this. It’s a step in the right direction.”

All of council, except for councilman David Pellegrino, voted in favor of the ban. The second reading will go in front of council at the Jan. 23 meeting.

Pellegrino argued that all members of council need to look at both sides of the plastic bag ban, saying that he was not yet ready to vote on the ordinance.

“That’s not to say in two weeks I won’t be in favor of the ban in two weeks,” Pellegrino said. “I challenge this council to research both sides.”

During the last council meeting of 2017 councilwoman Julie Samples presented the possibility of the ban, which council members voted to move forward with on the agenda.

“This is something that for our coastal community is very important,” Samples said. “Let’s see if we can make this thing happen.”

If the council passes the second reading of the ordinance it will go into effect on June 1.

At that time single-use carryout bags will be banned from town facilities, town-sponsored events and any event held on town property. Businesses within town limits will be required to sell or make available reusable carryout bags or recyclable paper bags.

The ordinance will not apply to laundry dry cleaning bags, door-hanger bags, newspaper bags or garbage bags or bags used by a customer inside of a business to hold bulk items or to contain or wrap frozen foods or prepared or baked goods.

Businesses that do not comply with the ordinance will face a $100 fee for the first violation, $200 for the second within a 12-month period, and a $500 fine for any additional violations within a 12-month period.

How would the ban impact the local community?

Various businesses across the town are in favor of the ban, and are willing to change their use of plastic bags to biodegradable options.

“I don’t think it would really affect us that bad,” Nate Benedict Sr., general manager at Bubba’s Fish Shack, said. “We’ll find a way to go around it. I guess we’d have to go to paper bags. So, it really wouldn’t affect us that bad. I mean, it’s good for the environment I’m sure. So I really don’t think it would affect us that bad to be honest with you.”

Benedict said that Bubba’s Fish Shack, which is owned by the Divine Dining Group, works to be a green company by keeping paperwork, payrolls and internal communications online.

Some businesses in town limits have already worked to limit the use of plastic bags. Benjamin’s Bakery and Cafe has switched plastic bags to biodegradable bags, and has stopped the use of plastic straws, switching to paper ones.

“Basically we just started with the straws and we just started getting our bags in for takeout and we want to keep it moving but as of right now that’s where we’re at,” Ron Reed, assistant general manager at the business, said. “So we do plan eventually to go with the cups and other things.”

However, businesses such as the Piggly Wiggly have concerns regarding the potential ban.

“I think from a personal standpoint I’m in favor of it, but from a business standpoint, no,” Michael Byrd, Piggly Wiggly store operator, said. “It’s just too big of an expense. At least make it where we can have a certain ratio of bags we can at least be a little smarter of how we use our bags.”

Byrd said that the store offers reusable and paper bags, but that those options account for less than a percentage of the types of bags the stores use.

“Obviously we’re going to take a big hit on our expenses having to find another option other than plastic because plastic’s so cheap and so easy to bag everything so quickly,” Byrd said.

The ban will affect more than just businesses in Surfside Beach.

Danny Knight, executive director at the Horry County Solid Waste Authority, said that plastic bags can cause problems with machines, and can act as loose litter that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control can write them up for.

“One city, that’s the first step and then if the rest do it, the county does it, then it will help us a great deal,” Knight said. “These bags get wrapped up in the recycling equipment and it costs us thousands of dollars a year to clean the equipment.

“We’ve got pictures of the landfill that looks like it snowed. But it’s plastic bags.”

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic