By Matt Bittle
DOVER — Plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past. Well, sort of.
Thursday, the Senate approved legislation limiting single-use plastic bags. The measure, which was approved 13-8, now goes to Gov. John Carney, who will sign it.
House Bill 130 will restrict establishments from giving consumers bags that are “made from non-compostable plastic and not specifically designed and manufactured to be reusable.” The measure will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and will still allow businesses to provide paper, fabric or reusable plastic bags.
The proposal applies only to stores with at least 7,000 square feet of retail sales space or chains that have three or more locations in the state with each one comprising a minimum of 3,000 square feet. Restaurants are excluded.
The bill has a few exceptions allowing plastic bags to be provided in certain circumstances, such as to hold frozen foods, chemicals or live animals.
Supporters argue the measure would protect the environment and reduce the scourge that is litter.
“What many people don’t understand is that plastic bags do not biodegrade,” Sen. Trey Paradee, a Dover Democrat who is the Senate prime sponsor, said.
“They photodegrade, which means they break down into tiny, sometimes microscopic, smaller toxic bits that contaminate soil and waterways and enter our food chain, largely through aquatic animals that ingest these, and literally starting at the very bottom of the food chain … and then gradually work their way up to us, causing all sorts of health issues for humans, and believe it or not, will even affect the livestock that will occasionally ingest them as they are fed.
“So, I would encourage my colleagues to pass this bill. We’re a coastal state, tourism is our second largest industry. We do need to protect our beaches, our waterways, our fishes and aquatic animals.”
But others counter some studies indicate paper bags are no better for the environment than plastic ones and protest the measure will be a burden to small businesses and people who cannot easily afford reusable bags.
Sen. Colin Bonini, a Dover Republican, said the bill hurts people who have to carry their groceries home by hand, calling it “a lot more than inconvenient” for them. After the vote, he described the measure as “feel-good legislation” that will do little to achieve supporters’ intended goals.
According to Sen. Paradee, the Food Industry Council will work with the Department of Health and Social Services to provide coupons for reusable bags for individuals receiving food stamps and similar welfare benefits.
One of the store owners who will be affected by the bill is Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, an Ocean View Republican who runs two supermarkets in Sussex County.
He objected to the legislation Thursday, saying businesses are not ready to have the ban forced on them and questioning how much of an impact the bill would actually have.
“There’s a whole lot more trash than just plastic bags,” he said.
Some Delaware lawmakers attempted to curb the use of plastic bags a few years ago with a bill that would have instituted a fee of 5 cents per bag. Unveiled in 2015, the proposal aimed to encourage customers to be more environmentally friendly by hitting them in their wallets, but it never received a floor vote.
California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags when it passed legislation in 2014, although the measure did not go into effect for several years. The state also requires stores to charge customers at least 10 cents for each paper or reusable plastic bag.
Hawaii has a de facto ban on plastic bags, and New York recently approved a prohibition that takes effect in March.
Numerous cities, such as Washington, Chicago and Boston have restrictions on bags as well.
In response to questions from Sens. Bonini and Hocker, Sen. Paradee told the chamber plastic bags have only been commonplace for about 35 years.
“We survived without plastic bags before 1985 and I’m pretty sure we can do it and have a positive impact on the environment,” he said.
According to the Delaware Nature Society, Americans use 1.8 billion plastic bags a week.
This article originally appeared in Delaware State News on June 6, 2019. You can read it here.