As part of his ongoing “Keep DE Litter Free” campaign, Delaware Governor John Carney signed House Bill 130 this week, which will prohibit large stores in the state from providing single-use plastic bags. It’s set to go into effect on January 1, 2021.
Large stores are defined as those with more than 7,000 square feet of retail space and chains with three or more locations with at least 3,000 square feet each. Impacted stores will be able to sell reusable bags, or provide or sell paper ones. For those stores found not in compliance, the first offense will result in a $500 penalty, the second $1,000 and $2,000 for the third and subsequent offenses.
Officials and environmentalists say litter continues to be a problem in the state, and plastic bags are a chief offender. Almost 1,950 plastic bags were collected during Delaware’s annual Coastal Cleanup Day last September.
“Much of this is human behavior,” said State Rep. Gerald Brady, a Democrat representing the city of Wilmington, who sponsored the bill. “In many ways, the legislation changes the rules and regulations. But we’re trying to send a clear message to modify our behavior, particularly when it comes to plastic.”
Dee Durham, co-founder of Plastic Free Delaware and a New Castle County councilperson, has been lobbying for a litter-free state for the past 10 years. “[Plastic bags] are ending up out in our marine environments, and they break down into toxic bits in our food chain—we’re all literally eating plastic every day,” she told WDEL this week. “Less than 10% of single-use plastic bags are actually recycled or reused, so that means over 90% are actually ending up out in the environment, in our communities, in our road sides or in the landfill unnecessarily.”
Currently, large stores in Delaware are required to have on-site recycling for plastic bags, though how many people actually use that service is unclear. The new bill will not include plastic bags used to wrap meat, fish, flowers or potted plants or those that contain unwrapped food items. Exclusions also include those that used to transport live animals and chemical pesticides, and those that cover clothing on hangers.
The law will also give cities with more than 50,000 residents the option to require stores with more than 500 square feet of retail space to offer reusable or paper bags.
Earlier this month, Connecticut announced that retailers will now have to charge customers a 10-cent fee for each single-use plastic bag. That move goes into effect his week.