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Plastic bags are collected in bins in North Myrtle Beach on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The City of North Myrtle Beach on Monday became the second municipality in Horry County to pass a ban on retailers giving single-use plastic bags to customers after Surfside Beach passed a similar ordinance last summer.

Starting Jan. 1, 2021, retailers in the city will not be allowed to hand out single-use plastic bags to their customers. The ban applies to all retailers, including gas stations, grocery stores, department stores and farmers markets. It does not apply to reusable bags.

"It’s been a long time coming," said Mayor Marilyn Hatley. "I think we’ve been fair in giving businesses a chance to voice their concerns, citizens to voice their concerns, organizations, whether they’re for or against. I think that now it’s our duty to educate our community and just reiterate that it’s something that we are doing to take care of our environment and that if every city and every state would do their share, it would make a big difference in the world."

The new law exempts dog waste bags, trash bags, yard waste bags, medicine bags, door hanger bags, dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags and bags used to separate food items like produce within a reusable bag. The ban also exempts any bag a customer brings to a store themselves.

The ban comes after a resolution the city passed in January to reduce plastic use. But councilman Bob Cavanaugh wasn’t happy with just a resolution, and the city started work on the new law.

"We've chewed the fat on this for a long time," said Hatley.

In March, the city passed first reading of the ordinance, and after some opposition from the chamber, held a public workshop to get input.

The chamber of commerce suggested instead that businesses be allowed to offer a credit to a customer’s bill if they came with their own reusable bags. But council members were happy with the existing version, and passed the law on Monday. 

Violations will be treated as misdemeanors, according to the ordinance. Punishment for breaking the ordinance is a fine in an amount not to exceed $500, or imprisonment for no more than 30 days, or both. The ordinance did not specify exactly how much a business would be fined for non-compliance. 

"It’s good, it’s been three years in the making but it’s actually not going to end up taking effect until two more years," said councilwoman Nikki Fontana. "The process will start now for education. We’ll have Keep North Myrtle Beach Beautiful and the city doing the educating that this will be coming."

Fontana said Keep North Myrtle Beach Beautiful would start handing out reusable bags, and Hatley said she thinks city will get out the message to tourists through the chamber.

"I’m sure we’ll come up with some kind of catchy statement that will say to people that we no longer allow plastic bags on our beaches, and that type of thing," the mayor added.

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