Topsail Island towns launch plan to reduce plastic pollution

Debris from a destroyed wharf, including polystyrene, is carried aboard a boat after being picked up by a cleanup crew.  Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation/Joe Huie
Debris from a destroyed wharf, including polystyrene, is carried aboard a boat after being picked up by a cleanup crew. Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation/Joe Huie

TOPSAIL ISLAND – An island-wide initiative to reduce plastic waste is gaining momentum as Topsail’s three beach towns consider banning a type of material used to make floating docks.

Topsail Beach is leading the charge by passing an ordinance that would ban the use of non-encapsulated polystyrene in repairs and construction of new docks.

City commissioners recently gave trustees the go-ahead to create a draft ordinance for the board to consider adopting at its April meeting.

Surf City and North Topsail Beach are set to follow suit in what would be a major step in an island-wide waste reduction campaign that aims, in part, to promote plastic waste reduction by local businesses.

If approved, the ordinance would be the first in North Carolina banning the use of non-encapsulated polystyrene in docks, Topsail Beach Mayor Steve Smith said.

Polystyrene is a plastic used in the manufacture of various consumer products such as polystyrene food packaging and coolers. When not encapsulated, polystyrene can break down with weathering, scattering clumps and small fragments into waterways and shorelines. The material can degrade into microplastic, which can easily be ingested by wildlife.

“There’s no way this can be cleaned up,” said Kerri Allen, coastal advocate and southeast regional director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Wilmington office.

Since 2019, Coastal Federation-led crews have removed more than 2 million pounds of marine debris, including abandoned boats, storm-damaged docks and homes, fishing gear, poorly managed construction sites, plastics in sewage and stormwater discharges, and litter from coastal estuaries. and along the North Carolina coast.

Three-to-four-man teams continue to pick up an average of 2 tons of debris a day, Allen said.

About 75-80% of this comes from docks, piers, gazebos and other waterfront structures.

be able to choose

In 2020, the Coastal Federation launched the NC Marine Debris Action Plan in partnership with community groups, government agencies and universities, to clean up clutter and promote building codes for structures such as docks to reduce post-hurricane debris and other coastal storms.

“As coastal landowners, anyone who owns a wharf or a pier, you really have the opportunity to choose a strong contractor who selects these best management practices,” Allen said.

The majority of microplastics recovered from beaches are polystyrene beads, she said. Next month, the Coastal Federation will launch a program where volunteers from North Topsail Beach in Onslow County to Sunset Beach in Brunswick County will collect microplastics from the beach.

Topsail Beach commissioners at their March 9 meeting discussed what they would like to see in a draft ordinance, which would require new docks to be constructed of encapsulated polystyrene. Older storm-damaged docks that contain unencapsulated polystyrene should be repaired with encapsulated materials.

A property owner must obtain a municipal permit to build a wharf or pier.

Smith noted that most contractors are now using encapsulated polystyrene, “but the unencapsulated is still available so we want to make sure that as we move forward the unencapsulated isn’t used.”

“There are other issues here that we will have to work on, but in terms of coastal management it is about taking the next step, no matter how small, it has to be done at this stage,” said he declared.

Unencapsulated polystyrene can break down and degrade into microplastic, which can be ingested by wildlife.  Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation/Joe Huie
Unencapsulated polystyrene can break down and degrade into microplastic, which can be ingested by wildlife. Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation/Joe Huie

Carbon copy prescriptions

Surf City Mayor Doug Medlin said the plan is basically to have a carbon-copy ordinance in every city.

“We’ll probably do something similar,” he said, adding that a unified order will be discussed March 24 at the Topsail Island Shoreline Protection Commission, or TISPC, meeting.

TISPC Vice President and Mayor of the North Topsail Beach Board of Directors, Pro Tem Mike Benson, said he expects a draft ordinance for that city to be on the agenda of the council of aldermen next month.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer because it’s the easiest thing to do and it’s going to help the environment,” he said. “We support anything that can be done to manage plastics on our beach.”

Between the staggering amount of debris collected through the Coastal Federation initiative and the first-hand sightings of boaters and kayakers on the water, Smith said people are ready to start taking small but important steps that will ultimately reduce waste.

“Our hope is that these three cities can really create a pilot ordinance that other cities can adopt,” Allen said.

Great turnout

Earlier this year, a meeting of stakeholders – all municipal officials from each of the municipalities, business owners, real estate agents and landowners – was organized for those present to discuss ways to reduce the use of plastics and other disposables on the island.

Pender County Director of Tourism Tammy Proctor was hoping for around 30 stakeholders to attend. This number has exceeded 90.

They decided to take a step-by-step approach, less about mandates and more about positive messages that encourage owners and tourists to change their habits.

“Drink on the beach (not allowed). (Tourists) pack up for the day and they bring it to the beach,” Proctor said. “This is the kind of stuff we want to raise awareness about and a sign on the beach is not enough. We want to reach people before they get here. That’s all our beaches. It’s all of our waterways. Let’s all take care of our natural resources.

Scott Franko, who sits on the board of directors of the Topsail Area Chamber of Commerce and is the chief marketing officer of Treasure Realty, plans to promote reusable shopping bags printed with an island motif in grocery stores across the region and beach municipalities on the island.

He had 10,000 bags made last year and began distributing them last August to businesses that are typical tourist hotspots.

Franko is also the man behind the BEach Clean poster with a short and precise message to leave no trace: use trash cans; no glass on the beach; pick up after pets; and fill in the gaps on the beach.

“It’s an educational program,” Franko said. “It’s an information program. Over time, we hope to change consumer behavior. Over time, we hope to get companies here to also change their behavior to change consumer behavior. The point is that you want people to want. If they want to do something better than impose something and get to the point of wanting and buying in, you have to nurture a message enough and hope that the majority of people will understand it.

Bryce K. Locke