Governor Carney set to sign bill

June 10: After passing in the House on May 14, Rep. Gerald Brady's bill to ban most single-use plastic bags passed in the Senate on June 6. 

The bill now heads to Governor Carney's desk. He has already pledged his support.

The ban is set to take effect on January 1, 2021.

---

May 23: Delaware legislators are closer than ever before to banning most single-use plastic bags.

House Bill 130 aims to take the state’s current policy, which requires stores of a certain size to provide plastic bag recycling programs, a step further.

If passed, it would prohibit single-use plastic bags from being distributed at all stores over 7,000 square feet or with three or more locations of 3,000 square feet or more, effective January 1, 2021.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington, with a long list of co-sponsors. The bill passed in the House May 14 with a 33-7 vote.

Next comes consideration in the Senate Environmental and Natural Resources Committee. Gov. John Carney has already expressed his support.

There are exceptions: bags to contain or wrap frozen foods, meat, flowers or potted plants, or other items where they contain moisture. Also exempt are bags sold in a package of multiples, like garbage or dog waste bags, bags used to contain live animals like fish or insects or to transport chemicals and non-handled dry-cleaning bags.

A lifecycle of harm

At the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup Day, 1,946 plastic bags were collected on the state’s coastal beaches.

“They blow out into our marine environment and get eaten by whales and dolphins and turtles, and get wrapped up around birds. That’s probably the most heartbreaking part of it,” said Dee Durham.

Durham, of Wilmington, co-founded the nonprofit Plastic Free Delaware in 2010. It conducts educational outreach and works to influence legislation to reduce single-use plastic consumption.

She pointed out that fossil fuel-made plastic bags wreak more havoc than can be captured by wildlife photographers.

“They break down in our environment and end up in our food chain,” she said. “An increasing number of studies prove that plastic is toxic and cancer-causing and is an endocrine disruptor. You’re basically eating oil or natural gas with other additives.”

Stephanie Herron, of Newark, is a member of the Delaware chapter of a national grassroots organization, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, and Delaware Concerned Citizens for Environmental Justice. She spoke at the House committee hearing on House Bill 130.

She said the bags raise infrastructure concerns. “They clog up storm drains and exacerbate flooding. They get caught up in wastewater treatment plants and recycling plants, costing taxpayers,” she said. “However, there are a lot of full-lifecycle concerns. Oil refineries and chemical facilities … where plastic is refined and manufactured are often located in environmental justice communities.”

“Environmental justice communities” is a term for cities and towns in which large industries cause high concentrations of pollution, affecting the health of residents. Disproportionately, these are home to people of color, people who do not speak English or people living in poverty.

Better options?

A plastic bag ban was one of the Plastic Free Delaware’s original goals.

“I didn’t anticipate that it would take this long, or that anyone could be against such a thing, since plastic pollution is such a big crisis in our time,” Durham said.

The group was involved in 2016 legislation banning plastic bags introduced by then-Rep. Deborah Hudson. That bill went through committee, but died without being introduced on the House floor.

“That bill also put a fee on paper bags. There were a couple legislators that didn’t like that idea, so I think that’s why it was killed,” Durham said. “The public perceives it as a tax, and most officials are reluctant to pass taxes.” HB 130 has no fee on paper bags.

“Personally, I agree it would be ideal to add nominal charge for paper bags, because we don’t want to shift people from plastic to paper,” Herron said.

She said the original draft allowed for “compostable” plastic bags.

“It just leaves a loophole,” she said. “Composted plastic bags have to be sent to industrial compost facilities. You can’t throw them in your backyard compost pile. We don’t have any of those facilities in Delaware, so it’s really deceptive to say that they’re compostable when they’ll actually just end up in the landfill.”

Following her comments, the bill was amended to remove compostable bags from the list of exceptions.

The Senate committee hearing for HB 130 has been scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, in the Senate Majority Caucus Room at Legislative Hall in Dover.