Surfside Beach is the first community along the Grand Strand to ban single-use plastic bags. But the town’s ordinance, passed by a 6-1 council vote Jan. 23, may be in jeopardy if a bill in the General Assembly becomes law.
The bill would make the General Assembly the only lawful body with the right to impose restrictions on bags, bottles and other containers. Last year, the bill came within a single vote of advancing to the senate. If the bill becomes law before Surfside Beach’s ordinance goes into effect on June 1, the state law would trump any local ordinance.
Surfside Beach’s ordinance prohibits single-use plastic bags, the sort generally distributed by retail outlets, at any town facility, town-sponsored event or any event held on town property. It also would bar any business establishment within the town limits from providing single-use plastic bags to its customers.
Councilwoman Julie Samples, who first brought up the bag ban at the Jan. 9 meeting, spoke in favor of the ban, noting that 70 percent of the town’s businesses that responded to a survey on the rule were not opposed to it.
“This is important to all of us who live on the coast,” Samples said, “It sends a message to our residents and visitors that we care about our beach and the ocean to not only begin the conversation but to put our words into action.”
Speaking against the ban, Councilman David Pellegrino said that in every instance where a ban was passed, “the default was paper, which causes different problems.”
“Obviously production causes byproducts and pollution that goes into the rivers,” he said. “Obviously there are two sides.”
Councilman Mark Johnson said he had some concerns about a provision in the ordinance that would force businesses to “display in a highly visible manner on the bag exterior, language describing the bag's ability to be reused and recycled."
“So are we dictating that all the bags have to have some wording or lettering on the exterior, saying ‘I’m a reusable bag’” he asked. “This is going to be highly contentious, especially when it comes to enforcement."
Councilman Tim Courtney said he's concerned about stores outside the boundaries of Surfside Beach, where plastic bags aren't banned, and that people would shop there and bring the bags into Surfside Beach.
Samples responded, “We cannot legislate what happens outside of our town. Enforcing a plastic bag ban is going to be no different and no more troublesome than we have in enforcing no smoking and a hundred other things. So if it’s going to be too tough for us to do, then that’s going to apply to a lot of other things.”
A number of individuals spoke in favor of the ordinance during the public comment section of the meeting, among them Neil Gilbert of Sunset Beach, North Carolina, president of the Brunswick Environmental Action Team and an environmental science educator.
“I believe that the Surfside Town Council has the opportunity to do something really great,” he said. “All eyes in North Carolina and South Carolina are watching what you do and how you vote. Surfside Beach can become the standard that all Carolina coastal towns, North and South Carolina, will want to pattern themselves after.”