May 22 2017

Why Plastic and Styrofoam Aren’t Allowed at the Beach?

Try to imagine for a minute, if you will, what eight million metric tons of plastic might look like. Got a clear visual? Now picture that overwhelming mass of plastic filling the surf at Folly Beach. That’s right — that’s how much plastic waste makes its way into the world’s oceans each year… a whoppin’ eight million metric tons.

It’s disheartening, isn’t it? What’s even more tragic, though, is that the tonnage is on target to increase tenfold over the course of the next decade if drastic changes aren’t made to curb garbage going into the ocean. That’s the awful news. But there is some good news, and it’s coming at least in part from our beloved little beach town.

In 2016, Folly Beach became the first municipality in the state of South Carolina (and one of few on the Eastern seaboard) to ban single-use plastic carryout bags, Styrofoam food containers and coolers, and balloons on the beach.

Mayor Tim Goodwin supported the unanimous vote made by the Folly Beach City Council, saying of the historic ordinance-turned-law, “This is just one small step for the health of the environment. Our ocean and our ocean life are the most important pieces of what makes Folly so special, and we have to do our part to preserve our piece of paradise.”

The harsh reality where plastic and Sytrofoam are concerned, of course, is that they can be deadly to marine animals and devastating to bio-habitats. Although plastic and Styrofoam are not biodegradable, studies have shown that they break down enough in the ocean to leach potentially toxic chemicals into it.

There is also the overt danger of ingestion. According to National Geographic, roughly 44 percent of sea birds mistakenly eat plastic, and 267 other marine species are affected by plastic waste. Turtles in particular are at risk, because plastic bags in the ocean appear to look like jellyfish — a staple of the sea turtle’s diet. Ingesting these waste materials can be fatal for the sea creatures.

If you think about it, going sans plastic bag and Styrofoam cooler when you head to Folly is an extremely small price to pay to keep our oceans safe and beautiful for the foreseeable future. So how do you ensure you don’t inadvertently land on the wrong side of this new law?

Here are a few easy ideas to implement. For starters, invest in reusable cloth shopping bags. The more you have handy, the more likely you are to use them — and, bonus, they’re very affordable. If you get into the habit of grabbing a reusable shopping bag every time you’re headed to the beach and plan to stop for drinks and snacks along the way, you won’t have to worry about being handed a plastic bag. You’ve already got a bag!

Another idea would be to buy a couple of small coolers to keep at home that are light enough to be carried by one person and small enough to stick in your car trunk, yet large enough to hold your beverages for your day at the beach. If you opt for two small coolers instead of one large one, you shouldn’t have any problem transporting it. Plus, you can always transfer just what you need into one cooler and run back to your car when you need reserves.

If you still need more incentive to say goodbye to Styrofoam and plastic bags for good, this visual should do the trick — Jenna Jambeck, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Georgia, explained to The New York Times that the eight million metric tons of plastic waste that goes into the world’s ocean each year is the equivalent of “five plastic grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

Bob Hart Author

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