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Monday, March 1, 2021

Your survival guide to the upcoming ban on plastic bags

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A ban on single-use plastic bags at the checkout starts Jan. 1 in Delaware. Here’s your guide to the 1,600-word state law. Answers come from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and other research. 

What stores are covered? Big stores (over 7,000 square feet) and chains with at least three Delaware stores of 3,000 square feet each. Most prominently: supermarkets, big-box stores and convenience stores.

What kind of bags will I get at the checkout? It’s up to the stores. Paper bags, reusable bags made of thicker plastic, reusable bags made of other materials or no bag at all.

Do I have to pay for the bags? It’s once again up to the stores.

Can I bring my own bags? It’s also up to the stores. And DNREC wants you to do that.

So what are the stores up to? We asked a dozen large retailers. Acme and Safeway, both divisions of the same company, will sell paper and a variety of reusable bags. CVS will offer free paper bags and reusable bags. Food Lion will offer paper bags for free or sell reusable bags. Rite Aid will offer reusable bags. ShopRite will sell a variety of reusable bags.

Costco’s checkout will be unchanged since it does not offer plastic bags at checkout.

No answers came from BJ’s, Giant, Target, Walgreen’s, Walmart and Wawa.

But I use them for doggy duty!” Plastic Free Delaware says that’s its most common question when discussing a ban or fee. “People think we’re getting the bags for free, but we’re not,” co-founder Dee Durham said. “A fee externalizes the cost.” You can still buy packages of single-use bags for doggy duty.

Are there other exceptions? The law lists seven:

• Bags for frozen foods, meat or fish; flowers or potted plants; or other items to contain dampness.

• Bags sold in packages intended for your garbage, pet waste or yard waste.

• Bags for live animals, such as fish or insects sold in pet stores.

• Bags to transport pesticides, drain-cleaning chemicals or other caustic chemicals.

• Nonhandled bags that prevent damage or contamination of the rest of your shopping.

• Bags for unwrapped foods.

• Nonhandled bags for clothing on hangers.

Will the bagging process change? “All stores will suggest you bring a recyclable bag,” said Julie Miro Wenger, executive director of the Delaware Food Industry Council, the Delaware Association of Chain Drug Stores and Keep Delaware Beautiful. If you do, “you will be asked to bag your own groceries.”

Why do I have to bag my items if I bring my own bags? There’s no evidence that your bags could transmit coronavirus, the federal government has concluded, but merchants worry about other contamination and are likely to disinfect the checkout area after you’re packed. 

Can I bring my own single-use plastic bags to use again at the checkout? Yes.

Can stores offer bags that have been used? No. But their reusable bags can be made from recycled materials.

Why are thin plastic bags banned but not thick ones? Thick ones are intended to be reused a lot, which reduces trash.

What makes a bag reusable? The law says it should be at least 2.25 mils thick and be capable of carrying 22 pounds for 175 feet for a minimum of 125 uses (cleaned in between).

How do I clean reusable bags? Cotton bags can go in the washer, the American Cleaning Institute says. Bags made from bamboo, hemp or polypropylene can be hand-washed or laundered in the gentle cycle. Bags made from nylon or polyester can be hand-washed. Insulated bags can be hand-washed or wiped with disinfecting wipes – yes, the kind you’ve had difficulty finding. 

How do I dry reusable bags? Only bags made from cotton, hemp or bamboo are sturdy enough for the dryer. The rest should be hung on the clothesline.

Where should I store reusable bags? Somewhere dry in your house. Not in the trunk, an environment that often promotes bacteria growth, the institute says, suggesting also to separate bags for food and nonfood items.

What can I do with old single-use bags? If they’re dirty, throw them out in the trash. If they’re clean, reuse them, upcycle them or recycle them in bins that stores covered by this law must have for bags and plastic film. Don’t put them in your home’s recycle bins because they clog the machinery at the recycling center.

Upcycling? Eco Plastic Products of Delaware turns clean bags and other items into benches and the like. A search engine will find plenty of crafty ways.

how to recycle plastic

What’s plastic film? Examples include zip-top food storage bags; bubble wrap; the plastic that wraps products like soda and paper towels; cereal box liners (but not if they tear like paper); and any film packaging or bag with a How2Recycle “plastic bags/film/wrap” label.

What are the goals of the ban? Reduce beach and roadside litter, save landfill space and increase recycling efforts.

Will that happen? An intriguing study led by University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor analyzed what happened when various California jurisdictions banned bags before a ban went statewide. Yes, bag use went down. But consumers bought far more garbage bags, NPR reported. The post concluded by casting doubt on the environmental friendliness of paper bags and thicker plastic bags.

What could be next? Plastic Free Delaware is thinking about polystyrene containers, plastic straws, plastic cutlery and balloon releases.

Where can I get more information? The state suggests its Delaware Recycles page or emailing recycle@delaware.gov

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