Commentary: Earth Day is good time to reflect on seeds of change in Delaware

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Spring is a fitting time for Earth Day — a time of renewal. We feel an overwhelming sense of optimism for what is to come. In Delaware, there are many reasons we can feel hopeful about protecting our natural resources.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control plays a major role in the transition to a greener Delaware. We regulate emissions to the air and contaminates in our waterways and landscapes. We encourage waste reduction, reusing and recycling, and lead investigations and cleanups of contaminated sites. We manage and protect Delaware’s water resources. We implement clean-energy initiatives, like rebates for electric cars and solar panels. And much more.

Since the passage of Delaware’s universal-recycling law in 2010, recycling throughout the state has continued to grow. According to the 19th annual report published by the Recycling Public Advisory Council, Delaware has diverted more of our household, business and institutional waste from landfills. Our recycling efforts have grown into a strong program that has also brought new jobs and opportunity, as companies find new ways to reuse what we once simply threw away.

This year, new legislation established the ban on plastic carryout bags in Delaware. As a result, stores are offering reusable plastic bags and paper bags that can be recycled. This goes a long way toward making sure there is less waste in our landfills and cleaner waterways and landscapes.

We have also worked to help residents reduce their energy use, and Delaware has committed to reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions by getting more of its power from renewable sources.

For decades, the DNREC Weatherization Assistance Program has helped people make their homes more energy-efficient. The state also updated its building energy codes last year, which means that homes being built today will be more energy-efficient and less costly to keep warm in the winter or cool in the summer.

While reducing our energy use must remain a priority, one of the best ways that we can minimize emissions is by continuing to move to clean energy in our production of electricity. That’s why, in February, the state legislature passed — and Gov. John Carney signed — a bill that increases the amount of energy that utilities are required to get from renewable sources. By 2035, renewables will account for 40% of our electricity use.

This year, as we celebrate Earth Day, we can be proud that the seeds of change we have already planted are bearing fruit in Delaware. Yet we need to do more. We need to continue to increase our use of renewable energy. We need to continue to build our economy on green jobs and take advantage of new opportunities. And we need to continue to preserve and conserve our natural resources now and for future generations.

Shawn M. Garvin is the secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.