“Bags, wallet, keys and phone” are some new lyrics suggested for the old children’s exercise song “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” as Delaware moves to a plastic bags ban.
The new words come from some creative folks at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to promote a broader and deeper ban on plastic bags that starts Friday, July 1.
In 2019, the state Legislature voted to keep supermarkets, drugstores and other large chains from giving away thin plastic bags, effective Jan. 1, 2021. The goal: a cleaner environment.
Supporters probably expected stores to only give away compostable paper bags or charge for reusable bags, discouraging their use. Stores did sell costlier reusable bags, but, citing a brown-bag shortage, many largely switched to free thicker plastic bags.
“Plastic film bags, regardless of thickness, are no longer allowed,” DNREC says on its FAQ. DNREC encourages customers to bring their own bags, and stores can offer reusable bags, paper bags or no bags at all. “All retail stores in Delaware are affected by the change,” the agency writes. “Restaurants are not subject to the ban.”
“Ensuring our products are better for our communities and the planet is a priority for us,” said Dana Ward, a representative for Albertsons Companies, which owns Acme and Safeway stores. That’s why the chain participates in the Beyond the Bag Initiative “as part of our work to reduce plastic waste and create a more sustainable future.” The chain sells reusable bags and and encourages shoppers to bring their own.
Julie Miro Wenger – a representative for the Delaware Food Industry Council, which unites grocers, and the Delaware Association of Chain Drug Stores – said that she has asked the John Carney administration for help with a “cleanup” bill that will make the change easier for businesses and consumers.
Stores on plastic bags
The stores want to be able to:
• Use up their current inventory of single-use plastic bags.
• Use their judgment for the right size of bags. For instance, a pair of earrings purchased and bagged at a jewelry store would, under the new law, be in a bag that could hold four gallons of milk.
• Use single-use plastic bags for large items bought at in-store pharmacies, such as colonoscopy prep and some injectables. This would be another exemption written into the law.
Delaware’s Legislature, which would have to support such adjustments, ends its work at the end of June. The governor’s office said it was reviewing her request.
The Target store in the Brandywine Town Center posted a sign that it would no longer give out any bags. The Walmart in Rehoboth Beach in June was selling reusable bags for 50 cents, and a shopper posted on DNREC’s Facebook page that Boscov’s was selling them for 79 cents. At an Acme in Brandywine Hundred, reusable bags were $1-$2.
DNREC’s lyrics illustrates how the ban is trying to encourage a new way to shop, along with reducing the number of bags left blowing in the wind, marring the seascape or lingering in landfills.
“Thicker bags only compounded the threat on our environment,” Rep. Gerald Brady, the Wilmington Democrat who sponsored the tougher law, said when it was introduced.
The new law
The new law says reusable bags “must be made of polypropylene fabric, PET non-woven fabric, nylon, cloth, cotton, jute, hemp product or other washable fabric” its sponsors said when it was introduced. It must also have stitched handles, be designed to be used at least 125 times and have a capacity of at least four gallons.
The tougher law retains multiple exceptions, such bags for unwrapped food and dry-cleaned clothes. And people can still buy thin plastic bags for dog duty and other uses.
If shoppers bring their own bags, they are likely to be encouraged or required to bag their purchases. Bags should be cleaned between uses, DNREC advises.
Clean plastic bags should be returned to the recycling bins at retailers. Stores that offer exempt plastic film bags to consumers must provide such bins. DNREC doesn’t want plastic bags put into at-home recycling bins, because they tend to jam recycling machinery.
The original ban netted an unintended consequence with the widespread use of thicker plastic. Will there be another unintended consequence from the revision for stores’ curbside delivery and shopping services like Instacart? Will a bag fee just become another charge on the order? Or would it encourage thrifty customers to return to shopping for themselves? Only time will tell.
“Maybe we should tackle inflation and rising prices first so we can put groceries in a bag?” Alex Houston wrote on DNREC’s Facebook page.
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