Strengthening Delaware plastic bag ban no clear issue

Businesses, customers say more responsibility belongs to consumer

By Olivia Montes
Posted 7/5/21

Delaware recently passed legislation placing further restrictions on the usage of single-use plastic bags.

Since initially passing House Bill 130 in 2019, which banned the usage and distribution …

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Strengthening Delaware plastic bag ban no clear issue

Businesses, customers say more responsibility belongs to consumer

Posted

Delaware recently passed legislation placing further restrictions on the usage of single-use plastic bags.

Since initially passing House Bill 130 in 2019, which banned the usage and distribution of plastic bags at the point-of-sale mark in convenience, grocery and retail stores, many businesses and customers, including Jeanie Somerday of Middletown, have had growing concerns surrounding its effectiveness — and Delawareans’ own willingness to change their personal shopping habits.

“In stores, they are saying that these much-thicker bags are reusable, but I don’t really see that that is what people are using them for,” said Mrs. Somerday, who has used her own reusable bags for shopping at locations such as Acme, Food Lion and Walmart.

“I think that, even though they’re using thicker bags, while it could potentially be reusable, I don’t think many people actually are reusing them.”

The law itself, which took effect on Jan. 1, sought to reduce beachside and roadside waste; conserve space at landfills; encourage and normalize recycling, reusing and other conservation practices; and keep recycle facilities in operation.

But, due to a notable loophole in the law, in which plastic bags that are thicker than 2.25 mils are considered legal because of the possibility of them being easy to clean and therefore reusable, many stores have continued to use these bags despite the enacted ban.

The response to this took the form of HB 212, which, introduced by primary sponsor Reps. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington; Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear; and Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow on June 3, if signed into law, would increase the minimum thickness from 2.25 to 10 mils, thus qualifying as being a multi-use, reusable shopping bag, effective Jan. 1, 2022.

However, while chains, including Food Lion, Walgreens and Wawa, have modified their point-of-sale practices since Jan. 1, for many other businesses across the state, the passage of this new bill would mean, among the requirement of reusable cloth and paper bags, continuing to rely on using plastic.

For Noah Merenda, co-owner of Spaceboy Clothing in Wilmington, while the original ban had him and his fellow staff members “psyched,” hoping it would represent a significant shift in how Delawareans choose to shop, when he heard about HB 212’s new minimum thickness requirements, he became doubtful.

“To me, (using thicker plastic bags) is really no different than the really thin ones,” said Mr. Merenda, whose business has offered paper bags to customers since 2009. “Just increasing the thickness of the plastic bags I think is not going to solve any kind of problem.”

According to Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, a Delawarean uses nearly 434 plastic bags per year, meaning that 2,400 tons of plastic bags annually end up in landfills rather than being reused.

Plastic bags are also known to cause significant damage for the statewide recycling facilities, which can disrupt machinery and cause an entire plant to shut down.

“A plastic bag is a plastic bag,” said Rebecca Dowling, owner of Hockessin Bookshelf, whose business uses recyclable paper bags.

“There are townships, states, (and) countries that function without plastic bags … and I think that if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can pivot as humans and also as business owners and consumers to do things in a sustainable way.”

As of February, eight states, including Delaware, have banned single-use plastic shopping bags, while 21 have passed legislation that forces customers to pay additional fees or taxes when purchasing plastic or carryout bags.

Additionally, Delaware, alongside California, New York, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, has also enacted regulations that allow large retailers to supply plastic bags to customers only if they have a designated area or receptacle designed to collect and recycle, as well as encourage eco-friendly practices while shopping.

For Delawareans, all plastic bags, regardless of how thick, can only be recycled at any in-store recycling drop-off location or returned to their store of origin for further use.

But, as Mr. Merenda explains, unless there is a strict choice between businesses offering reusable bags for purchase, paper bags or customers bringing their own, this legislation may do more harm than good.

“I think that it is the people’s responsibility to get into the habit of bringing their own bags,” he said. “I feel that it’s the right thing to do, rather than trying to pollute the earth more.”

Ms. Dowling agreed, stating that as the state government should enact these and other similar laws, they should also push for individuals to make those same changes for both themselves and others.

“I think that a society needs both governance and personal responsibility,” Ms. Dowling said.

“(While) there needs to be rules and regulations, I also think that humans need to take some responsibility for their actions also. And really, it’s a small thing to not use plastic bags.”