Plastic foam coolers may be banned from the beaches on St. Simons Island if the Glynn County Commission goes along with pleas from an environmental group, but the ordinance the county will consider may fall short of what some want.

Environmentalists would like to keep all plastic foam products off the county’s sandy shores.

Commissioners will consider a proposed amendment that is the result of recent conversations between the commission, the environmental advocacy organization One Hundred Miles and a recent Brunswick High School graduate who worked with other students to push for a change that will protect the environment.

The proposed amendment attached to tonight’s meeting agenda falls short of the originally proposed goal, said Alex Muir, an advocacy coordinator for One Hundred Miles.

“While we appreciate that the commission is working on this issue, limiting the ordinance to cover only coolers falls short of addressing the problem the way that YELP students and the community members that support this proposal have intended for it to take shape and have intended for it to unfold in our community,” she said. “We’re a little disappointed to find out that now some of or one of the commissioners is hoping to restrict it to only coolers.”

Commissioners contacted Tuesday and Wednesday for comments did not respond.

A ban that only prohibits plastic foam coolers, rather than all plastic foam containers, dilutes the purpose, said Mackenzie Buck, who graduated in May as valedictorian of Brunswick High’s Class of 2021 and who has participated the past two years in One Hundred Miles’ youth leadership program, YELP.

Buck and fellow YELP students worked throughout the school year on a project that would create effective change in the community. Their work culminated in June, when Buck presented to commissioners a proposed amendment to the county’s container ordinance for St. Simons beaches.

The proposal to ban all plastic foam containers on beaches was supported by several commissioners after the presentation, Buck said. Many other residents voiced support through emails later sent to the commission, she said.

Buck and One Hundred Miles staff worked with county staff during the process of writing the amendment, which at one point created a ban on all plastic foam containers.

But the agenda posted online over the weekend for tonight’s county commission meeting did not include the amendment Buck and Muir had previously seen. Instead, the amendment only bans plastic foam coolers, they said.

“We looked at the actual published agenda, which I think went up on Saturday night, and we saw that it was actually changed, and we hadn’t been told that it was changed, to just apply to coolers,” Muir said.

Marine debris is a significant issue across the state’s coast, Muir said.

Keeping plastic foam trash off local beaches has also long been a goal of the nonprofit Keep Golden Isles Beautiful.

Foamed polystyrene is made up of thousands of tiny plastic balls that are released when it is broken or crushed and are virtually impossible to remove entirely, said Lea King-Badyna, KGIB executive director.

“Lightweight, these tiny plastic balls are quickly blown by the wind and are mistaken for food by shore birds and marine life,” she said. “Foamed polystyrene coolers in particular crush/break more easily and are the biggest culprits of broken beach side plastic foam.”

Targeting foamed polystyrene coolers in the ordinance update would be a feasible compromise for immediate action and one that should pass easily, King-Badyna said.

The proposed ordinance change is not a point of sale ban, Muir said, although that kind of ban is in place in communities on the coasts of South Carolina and Florida.

“People would still be free to purchase and use foam elsewhere,” she said. “It’s really just falling to the areas where we’ve entrusted Glynn County to protect our resources and our wildlife.”

Polystyrene foam will typically last in the environment at least 500 years, Buck said.

“This amendment is not only about Glynn County as we know it now,” she said. “It’s about the communities who will live here for generations after this conversation is long over. Every piece of polystyrene foam that we save now to me is really a 500 year investment in the future of our coast.”

Microplastics are the leading pollutant found on state beaches, Muir said.

“And what’s our No. 1 economic driver in Glynn County? Our beaches,” she said. “So why would we not address what has been shown to be such a significant issue from research coming out of our own state?”

The YELP program, offered each school year by One Hundred Miles, helps high school students in Coastal Georgia develop leadership and environmental advocacy skills.

“The whole point of the program was to show us that little changes can still be very effective, and that was the ultimate goal in setting out to do this project,” Buck said.

Today’s commission meeting will begin at 6 p.m. in the second-floor meeting room at the old Glynn County Courthouse, 701 G. Street, Brunswick. The meeting will be streamed online at glynncounty.org.

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