Images of turtles choking on plastic, birds pecking at Styrofoam, and penguins strangled by six-pack bottle yokes cover our screens. It’s hard to connect those tragedies with the bottles in our hands and the bags holding our groceries. Yet, similar scenes are all around us, in the plastic bags blowing around empty fields and the bottles floating in streams across the state. Plastic waste remains one of the largest sources of pollution in the country, but luckily the Delaware General Assembly has passed two laws and proposed one that will reduce the amount of plastic we use and discard every day:
- Plastic Bag Ban 2.0 – House Bill 212: In January 2021 the “Plastic Bag Ban” went into effect, banning single-use plastic bags. However, the former law applied to larger businesses, and allowed the use of thinner plastic bags. Representative Brady’s “Plastic Bag Ban 2.0,” which the General Assembly passed on June 29, amends the current law, expanding the ban to all businesses as well as banning bags thinner than 10 millimeters to help ensure bags are truly reusable. But you can end the need for plastic bags altogether. Remember to bring your own reusable tote bags to your local grocery store, clothing chain, or any other retail establishment will no longer have plastic bags at checkout. Only around 8.7% of plastic is recycled annually, so limiting the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives is one of the most effective ways to limit our individual impact on the planet.
- Intentional Release of Balloons – Senate Bill 24: Much like plastic bags, deflated balloons can clutter waterways, kill wildlife, and take years to decompose naturally. To further minimize plastic pollution in Delaware, Senator Hansen has sponsored a bill that criminalizes the intentional release of balloons, which went into law on June 24. After April 30, 2022, intentionally releasing balloons into the sky will result in fines and community service, both of which depend upon the number of offenses and the amount of balloons released. Looking for an environmentally friendly way to celebrate? Bubbles are fun and eco-friendly!
- Styrofoam Ban – Senate Bill 140: Not only do plastic containers pollute the environment, but many can leach toxic chemicals into the food they hold. The International Agency for Cancer Research has classified styrene, which makes up Styrofoam (or “expanded polystyrene”), as a probable carcinogen. Senator Paradee’s proposed law would ban Styrofoam, stopping retailers from selling it and food establishments and schools from sing it. The legislation is currently waiting to be heard by the Senate Environment & Energy Committee when Legislative Session starts in January 2022. If it were to be passed in its current form, food establishments could no longer give out plastic straws without a request from customers, provide single-use plastic stirrers or picks, or serve ready-to-eat food in Styrofoam containers. Food establishments would replace these containers with environmentally-friendly alternatives; another important step in limiting the proliferation of single-use plastics.
Your choices matter, too.
State legislation is an important step in reducing plastic waste, but your individual actions are also important. By reducing the amount of plastic we use every day we can limit our environmental footprint, but it will require small changes in our daily routines. So, bring a tote bag to the grocery store, blow bubbles instead of releasing balloons, and choose not to use a straw. Watch as these small steps build upon each other, helping our local ecosystems and the whole Earth.
This blog was written by Kari White, a student entering her sophomore year at Fordham University. She spent the past five years working with Delaware Nature Society in youth outreach, where she discovered the importance of environmental advocacy.