House Passes Bill Ending Use of Plastic Carryout Bags in Delaware Stores

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Continuing their efforts to reduce the prevalence of single-use plastic bags, House lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would expand Delaware’s landmark 2019 plastic bag law and effectively end the use of plastic carryout bags in Delaware stores.

DOVER (DE) Via House Democrats: In 2019, the General Assembly passed legislation prohibiting single-use carryout plastic bags at large and chain stores. Under the law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2021, stores with more than 7,000 square feet of retail sales space, or chains with three or more locations with each having at least 3,000 square feet of retail sales space are not permitted to provide “any single-use plastic carryout bag” to a customer at the point of sale.

However, some stores have exploited a provision in the law by simply switching to slightly thicker plastic bags for customers that are no more “reusable” than the bags targeted by the law. This goes against the spirit of the bill and undermines the goal of reducing plastic bag litter and pollution in Delaware.

“Shortly after the implementation of the state’s prohibition on single-use plastic bags, we realized the law of unintended consequences was occurring. We immediately received complaints from constituents, that new, thicker plastic bags were being provided by several stores. This practice was in clear violation of the spirit of the bill and our intent,” said Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington West. “Unfortunately, the thicker bags only compounded the threat on our environment. It became apparent that further steps would be required to reduce the use of plastic bags, thus protecting our ecosystem, cleaning up our communities and purifying our watersheds.

“We are taking a critical step forward toward addressing this issue and removing single-use plastic bags from our stores, which will have a measurable, positive impact on our environment.”

House Bill 212, sponsored by Reps. Brady, Valerie Longhurst and Eric Morrison, would phase out plastic carryout bags from all stores, regardless of size, beginning July 1, 2022. HB 212 would define “reusable bag” by specifying that it must be made of polypropylene fabric, PET non-woven fabric, nylon, cloth, cotton, jute, hemp product, or other washable fabric. The bag also must be made of cloth or other durable fabric that has stitched handles.

“It has been my pleasure to work with colleagues to finally ban plastic bags in Delaware. In 2018, in America, only 8.7% of plastics were recycled, generating 33 million tons of un-recycled plastic,” said Rep. Morrison, D-Glasgow. “Plastics released into the environment degrade into micro-plastics and harmful chemicals that pollute our waterways and land, adversely impacting not just our environment but our health and the health of wildlife in the water and on the land. I am happy to see us build upon the original law and move one step closer to a plastic-free Delaware.”

The effort to reduce single-use plastic bags follows a decade-long project to encourage residents to recycle the bags via on-site recycling receptacles at large retail stores. However, plastic carryout bags are recycled at alarmingly low rates – less than 10% – leaving more than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags to be discarded nationally each year.

In Delaware, nearly 2,400 tons of plastic bags end up in landfills annually. HB 212 would drastically reduce that amount.

“Plastic bags from retail stores simply don’t get recycled at a meaningful rate in Delaware or anywhere else, so the best case scenario is they end up in the landfill where they won’t break down for thousands of years,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear. “But all too commonly, single-use plastic bags end up littered along our roads and blown or washed into our natural areas and waterways. The law we passed in 2019 was crafted to help fix that, but we obviously still have work to do.”

The bill would retain certain exceptions to the plastic bag prohibition, including: plastic bags used to wrap meat, fish, flowers or potted plants or that contain loose items; bags that contain live animals; bags used to transport chemical pesticides; bags provided to contain an unwrapped food item; and bags placed over articles of clothing on a hanger.

“Moving our state away from single-use plastic bags will help preserve our waterways and green spaces, reduce litter in our communities, and protect the long-term health of our neighbors,” said Sen. Kyle Evans Gay, D-Talleyville, the Senate prime sponsor of HB 212. “Our children and grandchildren deserve to inherit a Delaware free of trash and pollution and we need to protect our community from microplastics that end up in the food supply. The time has come for us to take the next step in doing what’s right for our environment and our health.”

HB 212 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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