A new law outlawing single-use plastic bags by retailers in Delaware is now officially on the books after receiving Governor John Carney’s signature at a ceremony on Monday.
The traditional bill-signing celebration took place with the backdrop of the Christina River in downtown Wilmington, at the offices of the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, where the governor was joined by state legislators and advocates who had pushed for the new measure.
The ban on plastic bags goes into effect on January 1, 2021, when it will expand upon 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 at checkout except for certain items including meat, flowers and prescriptions.
At the ceremony, Carney also signed into law legislation that increases penalties for unlawful dumping of trash and creates a special fund to investigate and enforce littering in the state.
Carney remarked that the drafting and passing of both bills were citizen-driven efforts.
“These pieces of legislation … came from our constituents,” said Carney. “We want to keep D-E litter-free. We can make Delaware the wonderful, beautiful litter-free place that we want it to be, and these two pieces of legislation are going to help us do that.”
Kathy Kline, interim executive director at the Delaware Estuary, said that the new laws would make for healthier environments and habitats, which are directly tied to stronger communities. “I am proud that Delaware is taking the lead on preventing litter from ending up in our communities and waterways.”
State Sen. Trey Pardee, a backer of the senate plastic bag bill, acknowledged the attendance of students from Newark Charter School and Odyssey Charter School who provided “major assistance” and “advocacy” in gaining passage of the new laws. “As the bill was going through the process at legislative hall, lots of kids were coming to the committee hearings to testify about why this bill was so important. And it’s really about them. It’s about our future. It’s about our health,” he said.
Rep. Stephanie Hansen noted that Senate Bill 5, or the so-called “litter bill” was developed by a task force with the aim of reducing large scale refusing dumping on both private and public lands. “The law creates a new category of littering called dumping,” said Hansen. “And instead of being subject to the normal $50 fine, which is what normal littering would be, this is subject to a $500 fine and 8 hours of community service.”
Hansen said the new penalties are in effect if someone tosses anything more than a “kitchen size” garbage bag full of trash.
Both the visible blight as well as the growing environmental and health hazards of non-recyclable plastic bags collecting in our oceans, rivers and estuaries motivated Rep. Gerald Brady’s sponsorship of the ban. Brady said the new law “sends a clear message” that will modify consumer behavior.
New County Councilwoman Dee Durham was also on hand for Monday’s signing. The Brandywine Hundred native had been working on the plastic bag ban for a decade since legislation was passed to encourage recycling. She said data collected since the law went into effect shows “the 2009 bill just isn’t doing enough to change human behavior, change shoppers’ behavior away from single-use plastics to reusable bags.”
Durham says that less than 10% of single-use plastic bags are recycled or reused, meaning over 90% are actually ending up out in the environment in communities, on roadsides or in the landfills, ultimately ending up in marine environments. This, she says, poses significant health risks. “They break down into toxic bits that are literally in our food chain. We are all literally eating plastic every day.”
Durham said that additional bills are being drafted that would ban or limit other container materials and products including Styrofoam, mass balloon releases and plastic straws. A paper bag ban was introduced but not acted on in this year’s legislative session.
The anti-dumping bill goes into effect just as DNREC’s Environmental Crimes Unit has asked the public to help identify the driver of a Toyota Tacoma pickup captured on surveillance entering the Polly Drummond Hill Road Yard Waste Site in Newark twice Sunday evening and illegally dumping material other than yard waste.