‘We can do our share’: What it means after North Myrtle Beach voted to ban plastic bags

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The days of shoppers carrying out their merchandise in single-use plastic bags will come to an end in North Myrtle Beach.

The city council approved the second reading of an ordinance Monday night that calls for certain stores, such as groceries and food markets, convenience stores, and restaurants to forgo single-use carry out plastic bags and utilize more environmentally friendly bags. An exemption will be made for plastic bags used for meat and produce, dry cleaners and newspapers. Bags of prescription drugs, garbage bags, and yard and pet waste will also be exempt.

The ordinance will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. Officials said it would give retailers time to expend their current stock of plastic bags and transition to alternative products, like reusable and recyclable bags, or compost options.

“We may only be nine miles. but we can do our share,” Mayor Marilyn Hatley told The Sun News. “If every city and state would do their share, then we’d all make a big difference.”

While the ordinance took many years to reach a vote, according to Hatley, the overall ban received little resistance from the business community and residents. City council hosted a workshop earlier this month inviting business owners to share their thoughts on the ban but few were in attendance. The North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce instead urged city officials to strengthen their public outreach prior to the ban taking effect.

Hatley said the council is being “very lenient” allotting two years for businesses, residents and tourists to adjust to the ban. She said the city will now focus its efforts on educating the public and encouraging hotels, Realtors and other entities to notify residents and tourists of the transition.

“Hopefully this ban will help take care of the trash that’s been thrown out in the streets, on the side of the road and on the beaches,” Hatley said. “It’s going to protect our sea life, and people will abide by the ordinance once it takes effect.”

While the ordinance doesn’t specify how the city plans to enforce the ban, any business caught violating the ordinance will be charged with a misdemeanor. The charge will carry a 30-day jail sentence and/or and up to $500 fine.

“The primary goal is compliance,” city spokesperson Pat Dowling said.

The council’s decision to enact the ban is part of a long-term strategy to reduce single-use plastics and keep non-biodegradable items from polluting the environment.

The city’s plan includes providing a more focused effort on litter control and cleanup and proper disposal of plastics through a campaign of education and community cleanup drives; aggressive lobbying for local control of this and similar issues and aggressive opposition of any state legislation initiatives that would hinder local control; expanding community education initiatives highlighting the threat plastic poses to the environment; and working with the local business community to help phase out the use of plastics in its packaging and processing activities.

North Myrtle Beach will become the second municipality in Horry County to enact a ban on plastic. Surfside Beach banned single-use plastic bags last year.

Other S.C. areas, including Hilton Head Island, Beaufort County, the Isle of Palms, Folly Beach and Bluffton have banned plastic bags from their stores and restaurants. Several restaurants along the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk have also switched from plastic straws to paper.

“I feel like the council did the right thing and I hope that other cities will follow suit because it’s very important we take care of our environment,” Hatley said. “It’s all about the environment.”

Anna Young is the Coastal Cities reporter for The Sun News covering anything and everything that happens locally. Young, an award-winning journalist who got her start reporting local news in New York, is dedicated to upholding the values of journalism by listening, learning, seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from SUNY Purchase College.