One key promise from my campaign platform was to protect and preserve our coastal waterways and to ensure a healthier environment. Soon after being elected in 2015, I wanted to hit the ground running because I felt that I could bring about a positive change to the town. I had the great fortune to meet a small team of highly qualified environmental organizations such as Charleston Waterkeeper, Surfrider Foundation and the Coastal Conservation League to discuss plastics and microplastics pollution and what we could do to prevent it.

At the time, the current administration had no interest in discussing a ban on single-use plastics, so my pursuits were tabled for the time being. During this time, the team and momentum grew and a Plan of Action came into focus. Surveys and flyers were sent out and college students knocked on doors of businesses and homes to get a better understanding of whether a required shift to alternative products would be acceptable. The response to move away from single-use plastics was overwhelmingly positive. However to be clear, this action was never an attempt to cause harm to the plastics industry. Rather, the science supported the elimination of single-use plastics, because of the harm it caused to the marine life, wildlife and humans through seafood and water consumption.

The process took over two years and before placing it on committee, I visited several big box stores and other businesses to get their thoughts on a potential plastics ban. Not one opposed the idea, and each wanted to be good stewards in their hometown. They all appreciated a member of town council reaching out to them prior to announcing the initiative. During committee meetings, we invited both the Mount Pleasant Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Metro Chamber to voice any concerns. All said there was very little resistance to the proposed ordinance. By allowing businesses one year to prepare for compliance, giving them an opportunity to exhaust their current inventories and to find alternative products, paved the way for a smooth transition toward implementation.

From the time town council approved the ordinance, several other municipalities followed and requested copies of the ordinance for their own use, including North Myrtle Beach, municipalities in North Carolina and Virginia and as far north as New Jersey. I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support we’ve received from the East Coast of our great nation. Courage is contagious, as evidenced by the many coastal municipalities which have joined the effort to protect our natural resources for the benefit of our future generations. It was my generation which contributed to the plastics pollution; it should be my generation leading the effort to clean it up. We should set the example for a cleaner and healthier environment.

During the many months of this process, I’ve received a lot of credit, but the real credit belongs to the majority of the town’s elected officials who embraced the ordinance. The tireless efforts of town staff to introduce this ordinance to our citizens and field questions during the rollout period. The many businesses and restaurants who welcomed and quickly participated in the benefits of the ordinance. The countless hours given by environmental organizations and their volunteers who worked for the common purpose and goal: To maintain the town’s character and beauty as well as give the town a cleaner and healthier environment to pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Jim Owens serves as a councilmember for the Town of Mount Pleasant.