Horry County could become the Grand Strand’s third community — and by far its largest — to ban single-use plastic bags.
County officials on Tuesday morning will discuss enacting a bag ban similar to the policies adopted by Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach. Those ordinances prohibit retailers from handing out single-use plastic bags to their customers.
“Plastic bags are not working,” said the Surfrider Foundation’s Corrine Hellyer, who is encouraging the county and the city of Myrtle Beach to pass bag bans. “I’m pretty proud of what we’re doing. There’s always room for more.”
County officials have been reviewing the ordinance North Myrtle Beach officials passed last month. That policy gives city businesses until Jan. 1, 2021, to adapt to the change. The North Myrtle Beach ban applies to all retailers, including gas stations, grocery stores, department stores and farmers markets. It does not apply to reusable bags.
County councilman Orton Bellamy said he supports gradually phasing out plastic bags. He would like the county to give business owners a year or two to adjust to the change.
“It litters our public highways,” Bellamy said. “It does a lot of damage to the environment.”
The bags are not biodegradable. Apart from the trashy appearance they create and the fact that it takes the flimsy material between 15 and 1,000 years to break down, county officials remain concerned about bags gumming up the equipment of the Solid Waste Authority on S.C. 90.
A 2016 study commissioned by the SWA showed that plastic bags make up just over 1 percent of the 250,000 tons of waste brought to the landfill.
The SWA’s recycling facility shuts down twice daily so crews can clean plastic bags from the equipment’s screens and bearings. The process costs the authority $32,000 in labor each year, according to SWA records.
The authority also spends nearly $29,000 removing plastic bags from yard waste.
Surfside was the first Grand Strand community to ban plastic bags in 2018. North Myrtle Beach followed this year.
Statewide, Beaufort and Charleston are the only counties to enact bans on single use bags, though officials in Richland and Greenville counties have discussed the idea, said Owen McBride, a staff attorney with the S.C. Association of Counties.
“Everybody recognizes that’s an issue,” he said. “It’s just, ‘How do you want to solve it?’”
McBride said some counties have waited to adopt bag bans because they wanted to evaluate how the policies worked in other communities.
“It’s more of a wait-and-see approach,” he said.
Some Horry County officials insist they have waited long enough.
The council’s infrastructure and regulation committee is scheduled to discuss the bag issue during a meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Councilman Al Allen, who chairs the committee, said the decision ultimately rests with the full council, but he supports a bag ban. He said the bags continue to litter the county’s roadways, though like Bellamy he said the county should give business owners at least a year to adapt to any policy change.
“I’d personally like to see them outlawed or phased out,” he said of the bags. “I’d like to give the merchants time.”
Hellyer, the local activist, finds coastal officials’ interest in bag bans encouraging. She pointed out that as more cities and counties adopt these ordinances, the patchwork policies add pressure to state lawmakers to come up with a broader solution.
“We’ve seen that they work,” she said. “And they send a message.”