Horry County residents will get a chance to share their views about a potential ban on plastic bags.
Keep Horry County Beautiful, a county committee that promotes litter reduction, plans to survey residents later this year about the single-use bags and whether the county should ban them. County leaders had expressed an interest in such a policy earlier this year, but later backed away from it.
“We wanted to get the county council back on track considering the bag ban,” said Bo Ives, who chairs the Keep Horry County Beautiful Committee. “We thought it would be more useful to first poll people so that we can show them that the county residents really want them to produce a bag ban. Rather than just have a discourse with them, bring them results.”
In May, Horry County Council began discussing a ban on single-use plastic bags similar to the policies adopted by Surfside Beach and North Myrtle Beach. The municipal ordinances aim to prohibit retailers from handing out single-use plastic bags to their customers.
The bags’ critics point out that the containers are not biodegradable and it takes the flimsy material between 15 and 1,000 years to break down. County officials have also been 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 counties have also enacted bans on single-use bags.
Although there was some initial enthusiasm on council for a bag ban, Ives said that waned. Council members expressed concerns about waiting for other municipalities approve those policies before creating a ban in the unincorporated areas.
That would mean waiting “forever,” Ives said.
“We knew the county wouldn’t take it on initially,” he said. “But having now beachheads at Surfside and North Myrtle Beach, we thought that might have been enough to carry it. And when they so enthusiastically picked it up, we thought they would run with it, but it stalled.”
Keep Horry County Beautiful leaders hope that if their survey shows enough people support a bag ban, that data will spur council members to action.
The organization plans to begin sharing the survey on social media in late fall and continue collecting responses throughout the winter.
They plan to take the results to county council next year.
Waccamaw Riverkeeper Cara Schildtknecht said she would like to see the council approve a bag ban. As an advocate for the river, Schildtknecht often leads litter pickup events along the Waccamaw.
“When we do our cleanups, single-use plastic makes up the bulk of what we find,” she said, noting they often pick up items from local businesses. “It’s heartbreaking to find stuff like that. … We’re always looking for ways to prevent trash from entering our waterways.”
Bag ban supporters acknowledge that persuading council members to support such a policy won’t be easy.
Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner said state lawmakers may address single-use plastics in the legislature, meaning there wouldn’t be a need for a county ban. However, he said business owners should be allowed to choose whether to offer plastic bags, paper bags or reusable ones. He opposes banning any legal products. He said he would rather see businesses respond to market demands.
“They should be able to do their own thing,” he said. “Let the customer decide.”