Plastic bag ban becomes law, takes effect in 2021

DOVER — Gov. John Carney on Monday signed two bills aimed at reducing litter, including one outlawing most plastic bags.

House Bill 130, which passed the House in May and the Senate in June will restrict establishments from giving consumers bags that are “made from non-compostable plastic and not specifically designed and manufactured to be reusable” starting Jan. 1, 2021.

The measure will still allow businesses to provide paper, fabric or reusable plastic bags and applies only to stores with at least 7,000 square feet of retail sales space or chains that have three or more locations in the state with each one comprising a minimum of 3,000 square feet. Restaurants are excluded.

The bill has a few exceptions allowing plastic bags to be provided in certain circumstances, such as to hold frozen foods, chemicals or live animals.

“This legislation is not just about protecting our environment but also about protecting our health,” Sen. Trey Paradee, a Dover Democrat, said in a statement. “These single-use bags never fully break down. Instead, they turn into tiny bits of microplastic that end up in our food supply and eventually inside of all of us.

“I’m extremely proud of my colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly for taking this important first step toward reducing the amount of plastic in our environment. This is a clear demonstration that we can work together to improve our state for everyone and I look forward to continuing that effort next year.”

The other proposal will enhance the penalties for illegal dumping and create a fund for investigating and enforcing litter laws.

Despite strong support from the governor and environmental advocates, some individuals have expressed concerns about the financial impact the plastic bag ban could have on lower-income Delawareans and questioned if paper bags are really less harmful to the Earth.

“We’re not ready for this bill because we have no alternatives,” Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, an Ocean View Republican who runs two supermarkets in Sussex County, said during the Senate debate last month.

Lawmakers could consider a bill prohibiting single-use paper bags in 2020.

California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags when it passed legislation in 2014, although the measure did not go into effect for several years. The state also requires stores to charge customers at least 10 cents for each paper or reusable plastic bag.

Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags, and New York recently approved a prohibition that takes effect in March. Numerous cities, such as Washington, Chicago and Boston, have restrictions on bags as well.

According to the Delaware Nature Society, Americans use 1.8 billion plastic bags a week. Waste Management estimated 99 percent of plastic bags are never recycled.

“We live in a beautiful state. We should keep it that way,” Gov. Carney said in a statement. “One of the best ways we can take pride in our communities is to keep them clean. That’s why I was proud to stand with mayors, county executives, and other local leaders recently to announce the Delaware Anti-Litter Alliance – a coalition of public officials committed to keeping our state litter free.

“And that’s why I was pleased to sign these bills into law on Monday. These new laws will help us protect Delaware communities from litter, protect our environment, and protect Delaware wildlife. Thank you to members of the General Assembly and Delawareans up and down our state who have pledged to help Keep DE Litter Free.”

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