Beachgoers on Isle of Palms will need to be more environmentally conscientious about what they're toting to the beach in terms of plasticware. On June 25, council unanimously approved a highly passionate ordinance to prohibit single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, polystyrene (Styrofoam) coolers, cups, food containers and balloons anywhere on the beach.
In 2016, the city became the first municipality in the state to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags at point of sale. Now, Isle of Palms is following the restaurant-to-beach ban trend of its neighboring coastal communities like Sullivan's Island and Folly Beach, to encourage residents and visitors to use reusable, recyclable and compostable products.
“There is no doubt that plastic and Styrofoam products pose a threat to our environment," said mayor Jimmy Carroll. "The trash that is left on the beach makes its way to our waterways and the ocean and is deadly to marine life. Plastic bags look like jellyfish and block the digestive tracks of sea turtles. We couldn’t sit idly by while seeing how this problem was affecting our beautiful beach."
Carroll recalled in April 2015 when four resident families came forth to council, pleading the stoppage of single-use plastic bags. He admitted they educated council on the harmful effects that plastic bags pose on the environment and ecosystem, specifically the digestive dangers imposed upon sea turtles, fish and many other marine life.
After this discovery, then council member Barbara Bergwerf of the island’s Turtle Team asked to restructure the city's agenda to bring the ordinance to the top of priorities. Carroll concurred.
To raise further awareness, in July 2018, an independent group of residents created a volunteer cleanup initiative to sweep the beach weekly during the summer months. The Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew has strong ties to council, as it was co-launched by councilmember and Public Works Committee vice chair Susan Hill Smith.
Last summer, during a series of 11 beach sweeps, the Cleanup Crew collected more than 23,000 pieces of trash on Front Beach, according to South Carolina Aquarium. The haul included at least 10,240 plastic items and 8,424 smoking-related items — mostly cigarette butts, which also contain tiny plastic pieces in their filters.
"Let that sink in and know that we are only getting a fraction of the problem. No doubt lots of trash rolls out with the tide the rest of the week," she said.
Smith estimates they pick up an average of 2,000 or more pieces of litter and debris each outing.
"We need everyone to take personal responsibility when they visit," Smith continued. "Leave plastic at home, rely on reusables, keep track of everything you bring and throw away your waste in receptacles provided by the City of Isle of Palms - or even better, take your trash back home with you."
As of April the Cleanup Crew, led by Howard Hogue of Moncks Corner "Beach Santa," has collected more than 11,138 pieces of debris. More data will be provided when the crew completes their sweeps this August.
The beach plastics regulations will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020. Beachgoers in possession of prohibited items can be fined $100 and upwards for secondary violations.