By Kathryn Casey, Island Eye News Staff Writer
At its June 23 council meeting, the Isle of Palms became the first city in South Carolina to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags by retailers to consumers. Members of the Isle of Palms community expressed hope that this will be a first step toward protecting the wildlife that live in the marshes, ocean, ponds and streams of the island from the dangers of plastic.
“I’ve been rehabilitating South Carolina’s sick and injured sea turtles with the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program for the past 5 1/2 years and have personally witnessed life threatening complications caused by the ingestion of plastics in our patients,” Christi L. Hughes, a Senior Sea Turtle Biologist from the South Carolina Aquarium, said. “One of our recently admitted patients, a loggerhead named Midway, began defecating large amounts of plastic on June 11. Two sizable pieces of plastic passed by this loggerhead sea turtle are clearly identifiable as plastic bags consistent with those distributed by grocery stores.”
As defined by the ordinance single use plastic bags are bags provided by a business establishment to a customer typically at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting purchases. A common example would be the plastic bags one receives at a grocery store.
This ordinance does not include the following within its definition of single use carryout bags: laundry dry cleaning bags, door-hanger bags, newspaper bags, bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste, bags provided by pharmacist or veterinarians to contain prescription drugs, bags used by restaurants to take away prepared food, etc.
This ordinance does not restrict the average person from carrying a plastic bag onto the Island either. If, for example, you go to Target across the connector and bring home your purchases in the plastic bags provided, you will not get a ticket or be reprimanded.
The ordinance only prohibits a person from providing single-use carryout bags at any city facility, city-sponsored event, or any event held on city property, and also prohibits any business establishment within the city limits from providing single-use carryout bags to its customers.
Harris Teeter on the island now provides paper bags for carrying out groceries and will also sell reusable carryout paper bags with two handles manufactured from recyclable paper.
“Reducing our consumption of plastic bags just makes sense,” Island resident Kathy Kent, who has been leading the Ban the Bag movement on the Isle of Palms, said. “It makes economic sense to protect tourism and property values—both tied to the health and beauty of our ocean and beaches. It makes sense to do what we can to protect not only marine life, including endangered species of sea turtles, but also our fishing economy. And now that we know from studies at the College of Charleston and the Citadel that plastic bits are being consumed by oysters and shrimp, it makes sense to stop poisoning our food. The plastics lobby’s claims of the environmental and health benefits of plastic bags have been proven to be untrue or greatly exaggerated, and the move away from plastic bags is gaining momentum across the U.S. and the world. More and more municipalities [are] looking [to] ban plastic bags each week. Why? Because, although it isn’t a cure-all, it’s an easy way for us to cut down on the amount of plastic reaching our waterways. Harris Teeter has already made the switch away from plastic bags, and as you talk to people who wouldn’t necessarily label themselves as conservationists, they are happy to go without plastic bags to make a positive impact on the health of our oceans.”
Although at previous city council meetings, Kent and many other citizens have spoken in favor of the ban, at the June meeting two residents spoke out saying they do not want a ban of plastic bags on the island. They presented many facts including dangers associated with reusable carryout bags due to bacteria. Although their comments gave pause to the Council, the vote was still unanimous. The ban will go into effect in six months.