Delaware’s new ban on single-use plastic bags has generated a wide range of reactions since it began Jan. 1.
Some consumers are happy.
“I prefer the reusables anyway,” Mary Snyder wrote on the Facebook page of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the state agency responsible for carrying out the law. “They hold more and never break. Let’s get with it and be responsible for what we can do to lessen our impact on the earth.”
Some are not.
“They charge you for them,” Ray Ramos wrote on another DNREC post about recyclable bags sold at some stores. “Can you say money maker.”
DNREC for several months has run an awareness campaign about the plastic bag ban taking place. It’s asking consumers for feedback on that effort, which also includes de.gov/bags. It’s been posting every few days about the ban on Twitter and Facebook, and these posts have become a forum for optimism and sarcasm, and all sorts of emotions in between.
“Overall, it’s going pretty well,” said Julie Miro Wenger of the Delaware Food Industry Council, the Delaware Association of Chain Drug Stores and Keep Delaware Beautiful. “Customers have been dealing with the change well, although retailers are finding it difficult to source paper bags.”
The law is complex but essentially stops chains and larger individual retailers from offering thin plastic bags at checkout. They can give away or sell paper bags or thick, recyclable bags, and they can offer no bags at all. They can use thin plastic bags for some potentially messy purchases, and they’re required to have bins to recycle thin or thick plastic bags.
DNREC reports only a few complaints about non-compliant retailers since the law began Jan. 1, an agency spokeswoman said.
Because of a shortage of paper bags, the bags available at the checkout are evolving. Acme and Safeway started with paper bags and switched to nice plastic bags for free. Walmart is giving out much nicer plastic bags, too. For now.
“Due to the ongoing shortage of paper bags, Acme and Safeway discontinued the use of paper bags in Delaware once our on-hand supply was depleted,” said Dana Ward, communications and public affairs manager for the mid-Atlantic division of Albertsons, the company that owns the supermarket chains.
“In an effort to make the ban easier for our customers, we made the decision to not charge for the 2.5 mil plastic reusable bags at this time. In the future, the 2.5 mil plastic reusable bag may be subjected to a 10 cent fee. We encourage customers to bring in their own reusable bags when possible.”
The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, a consortium of firms that make plastic bags, commissioned a study, released last spring, that concluded there could be a years-long shortage of paper bags if New York joined the march of jurisdictions banning single-use bags.
Industry trade groups, citing the shortage of paper bags, asked last fall for Delaware to delay its ban. That request was rejected by the state. Wenger expects the paper bag shortage to be a long-term problem, due to slowdowns in manufacturing and in getting the source paper that is recycled into the bags.
About half the stores ask that consumers who bring in their bags bag their purchases, Wenger said, and that’s also generated commentary online.
“We’ve been encouraging our customers to bring their reusable bags to shop and they’ve responded by doing just that,” said Karen O’Shea, a spokeswoman for Wakefern, which counts ShopRite among its member companies. “We are so happy to see that most of our customers are enthusiastically embracing the change.
“Customers can also purchase a variety of reusable totes in store and they have the option to buy a 10-cent, thicker reusable plastic bag at checkout. The bag is an inexpensive option for those who forget to bring their own reusable totes. The bags can hold more groceries than single-use bags, can be used multiple times, and cleaned with disinfectant cloths.
“We are not providing paper bags at checkout. ShopRite is concerned about the environmental impact of both plastic and paper bags, which is why we firmly believe that reusable bags are the best choice.”
A subsidiary issue are the bins that stores have for recycling plastic bags and film. Some were removed last year, because of fears that they could spread the coronavirus. But the new law requires them at every store that the law covers.
Bags recycled into these bins (and those reused by shoppers) should be cleaned, Wenger said. The thicker plastic bags that are a common replacement for single-use bags are also recyclable. But some multi-use bags are made of other materials, like cloth, are not.
DNREC doesn’t want plastic bags put into consumers’ at-home recycling, because they tend to jam up recycling machinery.