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A plastic bag filled with trash is in the dunes in North Myrtle Beach on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Citing environmental concerns, North Myrtle Beach council on Monday night passed first reading of an ordinance to ban single-use ban plastic bags in retail outlets, including farmers markets. But if even if it’s passed on second reading, the ban won’t go into effect right away. 

Surfside Beach banned single-use plastic bags last year and started enforcing the ordinance last summer. But North Myrtle Beach, hoping to give businesses time to adjust, have made the effective date Jan. 1, 2021.

The ban includes single use plastic bags like the ones found at grocery stores, retail outlets and convenience stores. It excludes reusable bags, produce bags, pet waste bags, yard waste bags, trash bags, newspaper bags, and bags used by pharmacies for medicine. 

“I am very happy,” said Linda Mataya, who leads the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol. “I transport sea turtles down to the sea turtle hospital, and I would say I’ve taken down maybe 20 sea turtles in the last few years, and most of them have been found to have plastics in their system.” 

Council briefly weighed the idea of a workshop for the ordinance before passing first reading, but opted to hold a workshop later, before the second reading. The ordinance can still be amended before second and final reading and will give local businesses and the community a chance to weigh in on the new rules.

The workshop, requested by the chamber of commerce, will take place April 1, said Mayor Marilyn Hatley. 

“They want to talk with us about the ban, and how to move this ban in to where it’s feasible for all the business community, and that kind of thing," Hatley said.

Four hours before the meeting, the chamber sent an email to council asking for a workshop. The chamber said its members wanted some input into the new ordinance and wanted to know how it would be enforced. 

The bag ban ordinance says violators will be punished in accordance with the "General Penalty" section of the city code, which specifies that violators can receive a fine not to exceed $500 and/or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days. But the bag ban rules don't offer anything more specific. 

The chamber also said it favored an alternative to a ban, providing the example of a 5-cent credit on each bill for customers who use “alternative” bags to incentivize less plastic bag use. They suggested the extra 5 cents per non-reusable bag used by customers could fund a recycling education campaign.

While the chamber attempts to find alternatives to the ban, the Sea Turtle Patrol would like to see it get more teeth.

Mataya said that while she was happy with the ordinance, she would like it to include other non-biodegradable plastics like water bottles. 

“What people don’t realize right now is that plastics don’t decompose, they just break down, and they’re finding more and more fish that we’re eating have plastic in them,” she said. “So we’re eating that plastic. We need to do something about it.”

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