Several new initiatives aim to keep Folly clean

by Jenny Peterson | Current Staff Writer

Starting April 1, clouds of smoke hovering above beachgoers on Folly Beach could result in a $25 fine.

The City of Folly Beach officially banned all smoking on the beach, including vapes, at their March 10 council meeting. The city joins surrounding beach communities in prohibiting smoking on the beach and at beach access points.

Folly’s smoking ban extends to all paid beach access parking areas and both sides of East Ashley Avenue at the Washout.

First-time violation fines are $25, second offenses within a year are $50 and three or more violations within a year are $100 per instance.

Councilmember Amy Ray, who brought the smoking ban ordinance to council, said it was a necessary step to combat litter from cigarette butts, which are picked up by the thousands each year from the sand. The ban has been discussed in council work sessions since November 2020.

“From data collected through volunteers who pick up trash on the beach, cigarette butts are the number one source of litter—there is no close second or third,” Ray said.

Cigarette butts are the number one source of ocean trash worldwide and leak toxic chemicals and microplastics when they get wet. The butts never break down and have negative impacts on a variety of animals.

The local chapter of the Surfrider Organization launched a “Hold Onto Your Butt” campaign on Folly Beach last year. It added cigarette butt receptables and eye-catching public art along Center Street and at beach access points.

According to a city press release, Folly Beach will launch a public education campaign to educate beachgoers about the smoking ban on social media, its website and new signage at beach walkovers.

Ray hopes the ban, and its enforcement, will further educate others about the danger of littering cigarette butts.

“If someone is observed smoking, it allows our public safety and beach patrol officers to approach that person and educate them to say, ‘Hey, you cannot smoke on the beach and here’s why—it’s terrible for the environment, it’s bad for wildlife.’ It’s a way to have that conversation,” Ray said.

Ray added that she consulted with leadership on Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island about their smoking bans for guidance.

Folly Beach Public Safety Chief Andrew Gilreath said the ban will be difficult to enforce across the city’s six miles of beach with limited officers. In 2015, the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis (OTA) estimated there were more than 1 million annual visitors to Folly Beach.

“I do believe that simply due to manpower, it will be tough to specifically target, and (I) see it as more of an effort to patrol the beach for all ordinance violations and if we see (smoking) as we go along, address it that way,” Chief Gilreath sad. “I see our civilian beach patrol staff playing a large part in that.”

Not everyone on Folly Beach council voted in favor of the ban; councilmembers DJ Rich, Katherine Houghton and Mayor Tim Goodwin voted against it.

“The timing just wasn’t right,” said Rich. “With all the ‘no’s” we had to say to people about coming to the beach last year because of the COVID pandemic, I didn’t feel like the timing was right to pass more beach regulations.”

Rich added he would have liked there to be an established “phase-in” approach, rather than public safety officers issuing tickets immediately.

Gilreath said public safety officers are empowered to issue warnings before citing tickets.

“With any new law, we try to educate first out of fairness,” Gilreath said.

Litter study begins in the commercial corridor

In a separate litter issue, a week-long study will be done in April to get a snapshot on the type of litter found on sidewalks and streets in the Folly Beach commercial corridor.

The study, co-sponsored by the City’s Tourism Visitors Promotions Committee (TVPC)  and the Folly Association of Business (FAB) and the, aims to curb litter in the commercial district by analyzing what types of products are regularly tossed on the ground.

For a full week, a paid intern will not just pick up litter, but log the type of litter on an app called MyCoast.

“When you do a beach sweep, you are given a clipboard to mark the type of litter, such as hard plastic, straws, bottle caps or cigarette butts,” said John Rosen, a Folly Beach attorney and co-owner of Sweetgrass Real Estate, located on Center Street. Rosen is on the FAB litter committee piloting the study.

“With the MyCoast app, data gets delivered to municipalities, which can fashion new legislation,” Rosen said.

Rosen said he’s observed a “ridiculous amount of trash” along Folly’s commercial corridors and that logging data about types of trash being collected is critical to institute change.

“After this pilot week, we will know what type of trash is being thrown, how much is being thrown and ideally, know the heighted periods of the day for the most litter. Now that the smoking ban has passed, I’m curious to see if more butts will be on Center Street.”

Businesses pitch in

In addition to local businesses adopting beach access points and keeping those areas litter-free, FAB is encouraging businesses to keep a close eye on litter on the street and sidewalk outside their locations and regularly empty trash cans.

Businesses who do an exemplary job are given the “Toby the Turtle” award for cleanliness, a new effort to recognize good community partners. The Sand Dollar Social Club won the award in March.

Vanessa Oltmann, chair of the FAB litter committee, said the support of businesses has been overwhelming.

“I’m getting people contacting me about when their business can be featured,” she said.

As the city gears up for summer beach season, Oltmann said it’s important to set a cleanliness standard along Center Street.

“If people see that we care, the hope is that they’ll be more concerned about taking care of their own litter,” she said. “If you see trash, you’ll leave trash, and if you see clean streets, you’ll have more (incentive) to clean up after yourself.”

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