No More Plastic Bags: Delaware Becomes Fourth State in Nation to Approve Ban

Plastic Free Delaware set a Guinness World Record in April 2016 when concerned students and environmentalists rolled the world’s largest plastic bag ball on Wilmington’s Riverfront

Delaware has now joined California, New York and Vermont in approving legislation that will outlaw single-use plastic bags.  On Thursday, the State Senate joined the House in passing HB 130 (13-8), setting the stage for the law to go into effect January 1, 2021, following Governor John Carney’s expected signature.

Introduced by Rep. Gerald Brady and co-sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee, the measure replaces the existing at-store single-use plastic bag recycling program by banning the use of thin plastic bags at large retailers. Retailers over 7,000 square feet or those with three or more locations of 3,000 square feet would be limited from providing single-use plastic bags except for items including meat, flowers and prescriptions.

Championed by Rep. Gerald Brady (left, back row), the plastic bag measure largely limits single-use carryout plastic bags at large and chain stores

According to New Castle County Councilwoman Dee Durham, who co-founded the advocacy group Plastic Free Delaware, the legislation also encourages a cultural shift among shoppers to reusable bags with the aim of cleaning up Delaware’s communities and watersheds, reducing stormwater and trash management costs to taxpayers, and promoting health and safety across the ecosystem’s food chain.

“Millions of plastic bags end up as litter strewn across our communities, roadsides, parks, forests, rivers and coastlines, and clog our stormwater management systems resulting in increased cleanup costs,” said Durham.

Estimates suggest that the average American uses 500 plastic carryout bags annually. Single-use plastics are made from natural gas or petroleum, a fossil fuel in limited supply with extensive environmental impacts in its extraction, production, and transportation.   

Plastic Free Delaware said that a voluntary 2009 recycling law has failed to meaningfully shift shoppers toward reusable bags. The group said that “communities, roadsides and marine environments are choking in trash and plastic litter” and that plastic carryout bags remain one of the most prevalent and pervasive types of litter found during the annual Coastal Cleanup – a three-hour event each September.

HB130 also makes it possible for Delaware’s local governments to use fee-based ordinances to further curb the use of plastic and paper reusable bags beyond the large retailers covered under HB130 as has occurred in other local governments in Maryland, New Jersey, New York and beyond.

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  • Plastic bags can be used more than once. Many churches cut them into strips and crochet them into mats for the homeless to lay on. They can be recycled into new bags, they can be used in bathroom trashcans . There are sites where you can make cell phone cases, purses and change purses with them.

  • DC, which should be a State, has been doing this for years. My point is that there are more DC residents than VT and WY have combined, and that population gets 4 senators and DC gets zero. Some democracy.

  • Are garbage bags going to be outlawed — or is this just the small bags used for groceries and other items? Garbage bags are single use…

  • Interestingly enough, plastic bag bans may not be the best solution to the problem. As much as I dislike plastic, there have been studies that show that plastic trash bag sales sharply increase after these bans go into place. Which kind of defeats the purpose of the bans since trash nags use even more plastic.

    NPR’s Planet Money had a great bit on their podcast The Indicator regarding this topic, and it came out not too long ago.

    Unforeseen effects of legislation is quite interesting. Hopefully other states take note of these effects, so that we may find better solutions in the future for this issue.

  • Since they can’t force people to recycle, they’re gonna do it another. At the expense of those who really can afford it the least. Because the cost is going to be placed in the consumer. Annoying goody do gooders, having only half the answer and not even trying to solve the whole problem.

  • Why not use an Old School solution. Go back to paper grocery bags, they do biodegrade. Also go back to paper straws, like we had in the 1950’s and 60’s. Even McDonald’s had them.

  • To Mike’s question, paper bags have their own environmental concerns, and switching to a different single-use option is not our goal. Our goal is to cultivate a habit of REFUSE -REDUCE – REUSE – which come before RECYCLE. Recycling is ok for some materials, but in general we would love to see a switch to reusable bags.

  • To Lani, let’s talk so I can share with you what Plastic Free Delaware and also another organization, Keep Delaware Beautiful, as well as Delaware retailers have been doing and will continue to do to reduce the impacts on those who cannot afford the slightly higher cost of reusable bags. We have been giving away free bags for almost ten years. The City Council of Wilmington endorsed a bag ban in 2016, recognizing the huge issue that it is. We ALL pay the hidden costs of single-use bags, and stormwater system cleanouts, and recycling facility shutdowns, and roadside cleanups by DelDOT and the DOC. Those programs cost all taxpayers. Not to mention the health impacts of toxic bits as plastic breaks down in our environment and enters our food chain – proven in an increasing number of studies, including 26% of fish in a California fish market and 90% of table salt! Plastic particles are proven cancer causing agents and endocrine disrupters. So, NO ONE can afford the status quo.

  • To Sean’s comment about the increased sales of trash bags, that may be true, but those bags (trash can liners) generally end up in the landfill, and more and more people are switching to non-plastic alternatives. Less than 90% of single use plastic bags are recycled or reused. For those that do recycle or reuse as trash can liners – FABULOUS! But our primary concern is for the 90% that end up in our communities, our roadsides and our marine environments.

  • Donna, reusing plastic bags for craft projects etc is great but it is a drop in the bucket to the amount produced and distributed. More than 50% of roadside trash is plastic.

  • I was in Kenya last fall, where they had a country- wide ban on all plastic shopping bags, with a huge fine and possible jail time if someone is even see carrying a plastic bag. This ban went into effect in 2017. I have to say that that country’s roadsides were cleaner than my little town here in New Mexico. While shopping bag bans may not be the best answer, I believe it’s a very necessary start toward increasing people’s awareness around reusing what we have. I’ve been taking my own shopping bags and produce bags for going on 20 years and I’ve never had a problem finding other ways to handle my home’s trash. It’s really just about changing our ways of thinking and understanding that, while we may feel ‘inconvenienced’ by having to find an alternative to say lining our trash cans or toting items around with us, there is always always a creative alternative solution. Cleaning up the plastic has got to become a priority for all of us It’s no longer optional to continue using it. I’ve heard all of this before about reusing those bags and I think it’s great, but that’s such a very small percentage of bags that get reused. I also make ecobricks With all of the old plastic packaging and we literally have a mountain of it in our kitchen closet waiting to be packed into old milk containers. If people really want to make mats for the homeless there’s so many other bags to use… Bread bags, tortilla bags, plastic packaging from shipping boxes, it’s really limitless … I wouldn’t use this ad the reason to stop bans on single use plastic bags. I really hope that we can all look at what we have in front of us and what’s happening to our planet and get a bit out of our comfort zones and find solutions that work

  • Dee Durbin, thank you for your reply to my original post here.

    In many restaurants the waitress also now is the bus boy meaning they clear the dirty dishes from someone else’s table and then serve your food. Sadly, many do not wash their hands after clearing a dirty table, so their dirty fingers are touching your glass, quite often where your mouth would go on the glass. I’ve witnessed this. That is a major health hazard.

    Realize it’s not just old food, but not all folks wash their hands after using the bathroom, some may be sick, etc., so that waitress could be bringing you far more than just your meal with her/his dirty hands. In my view, waitresses should NEVER be busboys, but apparently the state doesn’t care about that, so clean packaged reusable Paper straws solve the problem. They are biodegradable. Not trying to sound snarky, but if you are so sold on reusable straws, then maybe your group ought to first get the state to stop allowing waitresses to be bus boys. Good luck with that. So, that means paper straws are the solution.

    Some have proposed the use of reusable metal straws. Most folks use a dishwasher to clean their dishes. I doubt the dishwasher will get the interior of the metal straw clean, or get all of the very caustic dishwasher soap out of that interior [dishwasher soap is more caustic than regular soap]. In either case a serious health hazard for whomever is using that straw. So, again paper straws are the most logical, healthy answer and are very biodegradable. That is a win/win for straw users and for the environment.

    So, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • PAPER is not the answer either…that just means even more trees die. The solution is to find a biodegradable man made substance that would replace plastic and be environmental friendly.