A Plastic-Light Life

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LOWCOUNTRY EXAMINES REDUCING SINGLE-USE PLASTICS

Plastic is everywhere. Many people aren’t even aware of how much of it they use in a day: A straw for their drink at lunch, a bottle from the vending machine, disposable utensils in a bag of takeout food. 

As more people become aware of the damage these single-use items can do to the environment, they’re trying to cut back. After residents and environmental activists lobbied local elected officials, Beaufort County eliminated single-use plastic bags in November 2018. But some of the area’s larger retailers are offering reusable plastic bags, which adhere to the letter of the law but not its spirit. These reusable plastic bags can be used “up to 125 times,” according to instructions printed on the bags. But they’re still non-biodegradable plastic that can end up on the beach, in the water and in landfills. 

Rikki Parker, director of the Coastal Conservation League South Coast Office, and local officials including Bluffton Town Councilman Dan Woods have expressed their disappointment in the stores’ “workaround.”

Parker says that everyone can help make the plastic-bag ban effective by doing their part: Use cloth bags when shopping; encourage store managers to stock cloth and paper bags, rather than plastic; and participate in customer surveys printed on store receipts, leaving comments requesting cloth or paper bags.

In other areas of the state, some municipalities have eliminated single-use plastic bags and gone much farther. As of Jan. 1, businesses, nonprofit groups and schools in Charleston, the Town of James Island and in the unincorporated areas of Charleston County are no longer allowed to use or sell plastic food packaging items including Styrofoam and other non-recyclable and non-compostable carryout containers and food packaging such as bowls, boxes, clamshells, cups, plates, stirrers and straws.

Many in Bluffton and on Hilton Head Island are watching this transition with interest. Some local businesses — including Hilton Head Island restaurants Watusi, The Salty Dog Café, Java Burrito and Bad Biscuit, and Bluffton Brauhaus, The Grind Coffee Roasters and Zoe’s Kitchen on the mainland—are already using biodegradable, eco-friendly food packaging, but local municipalities have yet to tackle the issue of plastic food packaging head on.

“Eco-friendly serving containers are the way to go and I would love to see the town offer incentives or initiatives to restaurants and food establishments adopting this green idea,” said Bluffton Town Council member Bridgette Frazier.

Polystyrene plastic, better known as Styrofoam, is one of the most problematic types of plastic because it isn’t biodegradable and isn’t recycled, and it pollutes area oceans and waters. Eliminating Styrofoam is a goal of local environmentalists.

Even some beach toys aren’t safe.

“A lot of people just don’t see it,” said Byron Sewell, owner of Native Son Adventures on Hilton Head. “The Styrofoam boogie boards that Walmart sells for $8 or $10 — kids break them and these boards just release little foam beads all over the beach and water. Fish and birds eat [the little foam beads] because they think they are fish eggs.”

Activists recommend avoiding Styrofoam cups, plates, coolers and surfboards in favor of items made of materials that are biodegradable or can be reused multiple times. 

IF YOU GO

Palmetto Ocean Conservancy has been collecting plastic bottle caps for months to reuse them in an art mural. More than 1 million caps have been collected, and officials need help washing the caps, counting them and sorting them by shape and size.

The sorting will be done from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 27-28 and noon-4 p.m. March 29 at Buckwalter Recreation Center, 905 Buckwalter Parkway, Bluffton.