By now, you may have noticed that a lot of your favorite retailers have stopped offering single use plastic bags for purchases, and if they do those bags have changed. In 2019 the Delaware General Assembly voted to ban plastic carry out bags and as of January 1, 2021 the ban went into effect. 

The fact is, single serve plastics, particularly plastic bags cause the environment an untold amount of harm across the country and here in Delaware. As a coastal state we’re lucky to have miles and miles of beaches, as well as a vast array of wetlands and forests, all packed into a relatively small space – which unfortunately means that these areas are almost always littered with plastic bags. Not only are these bags unsightly, but they’re dangerous for animals in that they can restrict their breathing and even kill them if ingested. 

Why ban single use plastic bags?

Plastics clog our waterways and hurt wildlife. During a 2018 clean up, 1,946 plastic bags were collected on Delaware’s coastal beaches. It is estimated that less than ten percent of plastic bags are currently recycled or reused across the country, resulting in more than 3,500,000 tons of plastic bags thrown away or discarded annually. 

Which stores are affected? 

The ban impacts most of the stores you visit on your shopping day, including chain convenience stores. It applies to retailers of greater than 7,000 square feet if only one location, and smaller retailers of at least 3,000 feet if they have more than three locations. Restaurants are exempt.

Does that mean no bags at all? 

No, the law now bans single use plastics. Retailers can choose to offer paper bags, or cloth bags, or a thicker type of plastic bag that is designed to be reusable. Remember, it is, and always has been the retailer’s choice to provide you with a bag for purchases at all. 

BYOB! (Bring Your Own Bag)

This is the easiest and most surefire way to ensure that you get the bag you want is to bring your own. It also reduces waste and is better for the environment. As an added benefit, many retailers sell reusable bags at the checkout counter, normally for a few dollars or less.

We’re in a pandemic. Should I worry about reusing a bag? 

There is no evidence to show that COVID can be spread by handling a plastic (or any other) bag. Bags should be treated like any other item you use and cleaned regularly. You can clean your bags with a wipe, or throw a cloth bag in the laundry.

What about balloons? Aren’t they a single use plastic as well? 

Yes, balloons are a single use plastic and can have equally harmful effects on ecosystems and wildlife. What’s more, some balloon materials take even longer to break down than plastic bags. According to a recent study, balloons were found to be 32 times more lethal than any other litter for marine animals, given their attractive coloring. 

Currently there is a bill in the Delaware House of Representatives (Senate Bill 22) that would ban the intentional release of balloons by organizations and individuals. While the bill is still under consideration, it’s an incredible step in the ongoing work of protecting our natural resources. 

How to Avoid Plastics in Everyday Life

Using plastics is pretty tough to avoid. They’re an essential ingredient in our everyday lives, from the water bottles we grab in a pinch, to the way our favorite fast foods are delivered. Here’s a few tips on how to gradually break free from their use:

  • Rinse and Reuse- Whenever you can, opt for a reusable container, like a metal water bottle or a cloth shopping bag.
  • Cook More- When possible cook your own meals at home, to reduce the use of plastic centric take out containers. When possible, reuse the containers you receive your food in. 
  • Buy in Bulk- There’s lots of ways to avoid plastic packaging, but when possible try to avoid buying individually wrapped or bag items, like snack packs. 
  • Buy in Person- The best way to cut down on plastics used in shipping is to simply do your shopping in person. 
  • Advocate- Every little thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint matters, but that same principle applies to changing laws that govern how plastic is used and produced. Here’s two ways you can help right now: 
    • Support legislation that bans plastic bags and single use plastics in your area by contacting your lawmakers and asking them to vote for it.
    • Give feedback to the companies you buy from- these days a lot of companies will ask directly for feedback once you’ve bought a product. If given the opportunity, let them know you would be interested in buying more of their products if they contained less plastic.