Delaware lawmakers passed a law banning single-use plastic bags at checkout counters across the state. That bill was signed into law on Monday. Video provided by John J. Jankowski Jr. 7/30/19
Some people keep reusable grocery bags in their cars at all times, a few stash them close to the door as a last-minute reminder, and perhaps even more people slap a hand to their forehead as they pull into the checkout lane and realize their fabric bags are still sitting in their trunk.
Starting Jan. 1, this routine conundrum will take a new shape as Delaware bans single-use plastic bags in the state’s grocery stores and other big retailers.
The ban, approved by the Delaware General Assembly in 2019, is part of the state’s effort to reduce roadside litter and bolster recycling efforts.
As signs start appearing in store windows reminding shoppers about the new law and encouraging them to keep a reusable bag handy, those in the First State have varying opinions about the ban.
While Middletown resident Karen Wood will miss reusing her plastic grocery bags as trash bags, she said, “I’ll be happy if Wawa stops using plastic or bags with their name on it as I constantly am pulling them out of trees.”
Debbie Olsen lives outside Greenwood, and she agreed, saying she hopes fewer plastic bags will reduce waste in landfills.
“I think it’s just going to be a lot more environmentally friendly if we all have our own bags to begin with,” she said. “I don’t have any problem with it, and I don’t see why anyone else should either.”
Recently moving to the Newark area with plans to settle in Middletown, Laura Sheridan said she experienced a plastic bag ban while living in California, and she could tell that there was significantly less waste after the new law.
Her family lived near a landfill, and when it was windy they were used to seeing plastic bags whipping through the air. But, within a year of the ban, she said they noticed fewer bags blowing around.
“We were amazed,” she said, asking herself, “Do we actually waste that many bags?”
Smaller stores aren’t affected
The ban does not apply to small businesses. The store either has to be 7,000 square feet or bigger, or if there are three or more Delaware locations, each has to be at least 3,000 square feet.
What kind of bags to expect
Larger retailers that have to comply with the plastic ban can choose to offer paper bags, cloth bags or a thicker type of plastic bag that is designed to be reusable. The law allows the stores to charge a fee for the bags they provide.
Safeway, for example, will discontinue all plastic bags and have paper and reusable bags for sale. The stores will no longer offer paper bags for free in the new year due to a paper bag shortage and increased consumption, said Safeway spokeswoman Beth Goldberg.
Delaware’s Food Lion stores, on the other hand, will provide paper bags for free or reusable bags for purchase, said spokesman Matt Harakal.
The use of paper bags sparks another parallel debate among Delawareans, some of whom ask if paper bags can also be a detriment to the environment.
Dover resident Searah Legates said it made sense when people avoided paper bags to save trees, but it is frustrating that plastic bags are now banned because people do not reuse and recycle them enough.
Some Delaware lawmakers agreed that paper bags should also be banned, but their efforts to add that to the plastic bag ban were unsuccessful.
At ShopRite, the grocery stores are encouraging customers to “be the change” by bringing reusable bags when they shop, said spokeswoman Karen O’Shea. ShopRite customers can buy reusable totes or a 10-cent, thicker reusable plastic bag at checkout.
The reusable bags can hold more groceries than single-use bags, can be used multiple times and can be cleaned with disinfectant cloths, O’Shea said.
From her experience in California, Sheridan said the thicker plastic bags are convenient, especially when buying meat or something you don’t want to put in fabric.
The state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is encouraging people to wash their reusable bags in between uses — with dirty bags an issue some shoppers said they were worried about as COVID-19 continues to spread in Delaware.
Concerned about people bringing in dirty reusable bags, Milton resident Thuy Dong said grocery store employees should be allowed to refuse any bags that are not cleaned.
Many people said they already reuse the single-use plastic bags as trash bags or when they toss kitty litter or dirty diapers, and they question what impact this ban will have.
“This new law will barely make a dent in the problem,” said Keith Markowitz of Smyrna. He believes the state should focus more on preventing bags from ending up in the oceans or roadways, rather than banning the bags themselves.
While hearing from opponents to the ban, Valarie Kelley, who lives near Clayton, sighed and said she believes people are simply resistant to change.
She loves her reusable bags, and she said she doesn’t understand the argument of reusing plastic bags for garbage when often these bags are “so thin that they just shred when you look at them.”
Since the law passed in 2019, she believes there has been plenty of advance notice.
Having gone through this before, Sheridan also encouraged her new fellow Delawareans, saying, “It’s nothing to freak out about.”
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