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Strict plastic bag ban starts July 1

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Shoppers should expect to bring reusable bags to grocery stores starting on July 1, as the Delaware Legislature has closed a loophole that allows durable plastic bags. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DNREC

After more than a year of large retailers skirting a prohibition on plastic bags by utilizing a loophole for thicker material, plastic is headed for the history books at most checkout lines in Delaware come July 1.

A 2019 law, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2021, prohibited large stores and chain retailers from providing “any single-use plastic carryout bag” to consumers at the point of sale.

Rather than offer reusable fabric bags or paper, however, many stores in the First State took advantage of an exemption in the 2019 bill that allowed for thicker plastic bags, reasoning that those plastic bags would be reusable, rather than single use. The reality after their use began, however, was that most consumers weren’t reusing the thicker bags as recommended.

The state legislature approved House Bill 212 last year that closes the loophole by specifying that “reusable bags” are those that are made of durable fabric and have stitched handles. The law was also expanded to cover all non-restaurant retail establishments, regardless of size. Both provisions go into effect on July 1 after the bill was signed by Gov. John Carney.

Retailers can choose to offer paper bags or reusable cloth bags made from cloth or other durable materials, and they can charge customers for them. They are not required to offer them free of charge though, meaning consumers will likely have to get used to bringing a bag to stores, pay for one at the register or prepare to carry armfuls of products out of the door.

The goal of the stricter bag ban is to reduce roadside, waterway and seaside litter; to save valuable landfill space; to increase recycling efforts; and to help recycling facilities avoid delays when plastic bags get stuck in their machinery, according to state officials.

“Prior to the enactment of this law in 2019, it was estimated that each Delawarean used approximately 434 plastic bags each year, many of which wound up as waste in our landfills,” State Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn M. Garvin said in a statement reminding shoppers of the pending change. “By realigning the legislation to further limit the use of film carryout bags, we are reducing waste that all too often ends up along on our roadway, in our waterways and along our shorelines – all detrimental to our environment including harmful effects on our wildlife and marine creatures.”

Julie Miro Wegner, executive director of the Delaware Food Industry Council (DFIC), a trade association for grocery stores, told Delaware Business Times that her organization’s members would be ready for the change come July 1, noting that they’ve been preparing for months.

Miro Wegner did note that supply chain issues have made procuring both paper bags and reusable cloth bags difficult though.

“That’s really the biggest hurdle for implementing this change now,” she said. “Paper mills being closed during COVID has had a long-term effect of getting paper bags and we’ve also seen a real increase in the cost of both the paper bag and reusable bags.”

More information about the enhanced plastic bag ban can be found at de.gov/bags.

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