Bill aims to end retail plastic bag use by 2021

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A Delaware legislatorwants to limit the use of plastic bags by retailers by 2021.

Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington, is introducing the legislation that has the support of Gov. John Carney.

Delaware already requires large retail stores to establish at-store recycling receptacles so customers can return plastic bags. Plastic carryout bags are also required to have labels that contain printed recycling messaging.

However, plastic carryout bags are recycled at low rates (less than 10 percent) leaving more than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags to be discarded annually. The bags also caused problems in mixed recycling cans with many people mistakenly believing that the material is OK.

House Bill 130, introduced Thursday, expands Delaware’s existing at-store recycling program by largely prohibiting single-use carryout plastic bags at large and chain stores.

“The environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags are alarming, so it’s critical we take steps now to mitigate the long-term costs before our ecosystem further deteriorates. This is a measured, reasonable approach that will severely cut the number of plastic bags distributed throughout Delaware by focusing on large and chain retail stores,” Brady stated.

Under HB 130, stores with more than 7,000 square feet of retail sales space, or chains with three or more locations with each having at least 3,000 square feet of retail sales space would be affected. Restaurants would be excluded. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, those stores would not be permitted to provide “any single-use plastic carryout bag” to a customer at the point of sale.

The bill includes a few exceptions, including bags used to wrap meat, fish, flowers or potted plants or that contain unwrapped food items; bags that contain live animals; bags used to transport chemical pesticides; and bags placed over articles of clothing on a hanger.

“Plastic bags are a significant source of litter in our state,” said Gov. John Carney. “If you’re like me, you notice these bags everywhere – stuck in trees, and on the side of the road. We know that very few of them are reused or recycled and many end up as litter. This legislation will help clean up our state and – as we continue to invest in open space preservation across Delaware – give us one more tool to protect our environment. I’m proud to support Representative Brady and thank him for his partnership on this issue.”

California and most recently New Yorkhave enacted statewide bans on single-use plastic bags, with Hawaii’s most populous counties prohibiting non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout as well. Major cities such as Boston, Chicago and Seattle have also enacted similar measure.

A number of states and local units of government tax bags as a way to raise funds for environmental purposes. Other than the label requirement, Delaware has no other laws governing the bags.

The legislation also encourages retailers to make reusable or paper bags available at no cost for customers enrolled in the Delaware Food Stamp Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Women, Infants and Children program.

The measure is likely to draw opposition from retailers and Republicans in the General Assembly. Generally, Delaware is not among the first states to adopt groundbreaking legislation but instead waits for other states to take the lead.

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