Single-use plastic bag ban begins in Delaware

DOVER — Customers in the checkout lines at grocery, retail and convenience stores throughout Delaware should be prepared for a new way of conducting business starting New Year’s Day.

That’s because consumers and some businesses in Delaware will no longer be able to use or distribute single-use plastic carryout bags at the point of sale.

In recent years, plastic carryout bags have been the No. 1 thing that has been used for consumers to take items home from stores.

This will no longer be the case in Delaware.

House Bill 130 implementing the single-use plastic carryout bag ban was sponsored by 12 legislators, led by Rep. Gerald Brady (D-Wilmington) and Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover), and was passed in 2019 and signed by Gov. John Carney.

Starting today, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is urging customers to bring reusable bags to stores instead and to clean/disinfect those bags between uses.

Retailers can choose to offer paper bags, cloth bags or a thicker type of plastic bag that is designed to be reusable. The law allows retail stores to charge a fee for the bags they provide at point of sale. DNREC advises consumers to wash or disinfect their reusable bags by turning them inside out and wiping them down with a disinfecting agent after each use.

Under the law, plastic carryout bags will no longer be available from larger stores (more than 7,000 square feet) as well as smaller stores with at least three locations in Delaware of 3,000 square feet each or more. Supermarkets and big-box stores are affected, as well as chains of convenience stores. Restaurants are not subject to the ban, nor are small stores with one or two locations.

The law does include some exceptions for damp products, like flowers, meat and frozen foods; live fish and insects; unwrapped food items and caustic chemicals, as well as dry cleaning bags.

Like most changes, the new law appears to be drawing praise from some and scorn from others.

“I really don’t get it,” said Louise Robinson, of Kenton, while taking her groceries from Safeway to her SUV in Dover on Wednesday. “Years ago, we were told that paper bags were eliminating forests and were bad for the environment. Now, it’s OK to use paper bags but get rid of the plastic ones? It’s always something. Politicians can never seem to leave well enough alone.

“I certainly don’t want to have to buy 10 or 12 reusable bags and bring them with me every time I go to pick up groceries. Then I have to clean them when I get home? It looks like just another nitpicky thing for us to have to worry about to me. What if you have to stop off and pick a couple of things up on the way home from work and you don’t have the bags with you? Then you’re in trouble.”

DNREC said the single-use plastic bag ban is designed to reduce beach and roadside litter, save landfill space, increase recycling efforts and help recycling facilities from having to shut down when plastic bags get stuck in the machinery.

“Each Delawarean uses about 434 plastic bags (per year) and that means nearly 2,400 tons of plastic bags end up in our landfills annually,” said DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin. “A decrease by the public of plastic carryout bags can mitigate a large portion of this waste and help our environment by reducing the amount plastic bags on our roads and waterways that can harm us and our wildlife.”

Beth Gallagher applauded the move by Delaware to be more environmentally conscious.

“Hopefully, people will start caring more,” she wrote on Facebook. “Delaware is one of the trashiest states I’ve ever been to. People literally just throw their trash outside the car window. I wish we would start fining for littering. I know it’s a law, but it’s rarely enforced. The state could get so much money by ticketing for this.”

Tom Armstrong, of Dover, said he will not mind the new law as long as grocery stores provide paper bags for their customers.

“If you think about it, there has been a huge reduction in paper waste over the past several years,” he said. “Now, with email, computers and everything else going paperless, using paper bags won’t be nearly as big of a burden on the forest industry and environment. Plus, I’ve always liked paper bags better than plastic anyways because you can put more groceries in them, and they don’t break as often as plastic bags.”

Meg Ham, president of Food Lion, said the grocery store chain is prepared for the changes.

“We will adjust to whatever the state says we will have to do when it comes to plastic bags,” Ms. Ham said. “We already have been offering reusable bags to our customers and, whatever more changes we have to make, we are prepared to make the transitions as easy as possible for the consumers who come into our stores to purchase their groceries and other items.”

Different stores will offer different options for shoppers.

Delaware’s Food Lion stores will provide paper bags for free or reusable bags for purchase. Safeway, meanwhile, will discontinue all plastic bags and have paper and reusable bags for sale. All stores will be happy to see customers bring in their own clean, reusable shopping bags.

Most stores, including Wawa, have had signs in their windows in recent weeks reminding the public of the changes and to always have a reusable bag handy just in case somebody needs to pick something up from the store.

Retail stores that will be affected by the law are required to provide an at-store recycling program for plastic bags and other specific plastics, like cereal box liners, newspaper sleeves and single-use produce or meat bags.

The drop-off locations should be visible and accessible within the store. Bags that are no longer reusable or unwanted should be recycled at these locations. Plastic bags should not be placed in carts that are part of the state’s curbside recycling program but should instead be returned to stores for recycling.

“If they want increased recycling then why doesn’t the DSWA take plastic bags in their recycling bins?” said Michael Campbell. “I used to take mine to Walmart but since COVID, they won’t take them.”

Theresa Nicholson wrote on Facebook, “Hate it. We use the plastic bags for our dogs and as trash bags in our home.”

One thing is for certain, whether consumers like the new law or hate it, anybody heading out to shop starting today needs to “Plan for the Ban.”

“I’m ready,” said Milford’s Maria Reyes, outside of Food Lion on Del. 10 on Wednesday. “I’ve been using reusable shopping bags for a couple of years now and they can hold more food in them than plastic bags and washing them out is really not that big of a deal. People will find ways to adjust — just like they always do.”