Delaware exacerbates loophole law restricting plastic bags

Joanne Green brought three cloth bags to Acme in Pike Creek this week when she was shopping for groceries. But she also put some perishable goods in thick plastic bags that she got from the grocery store when she checked out.

“Since I have the eggs and the chicken, I decided I had better put them in the plastic bag,” Green said as she loaded the groceries into her car. “But otherwise I usually bring my own.”

Joanne Green brings her own reusable bags, but uses some of the store’s plastic bags for chickens and eggs. (Cris Barrish / WHYY)

This scene isn’t what Delaware lawmakers expected when they introduced some sort of ban on single-use plastic bags for larger stores in January. The law affects stores with at least 7,000 square meters of retail space or chains with at least 3,000 square meters of retail space in three or more locations.

Instead, companies drove through a huge void.

Because the law still allows plastic bags with a thickness of at least 2.25 millimeters, as long as they can be reused for 125 times. Hence, stores like Acme, Target, and Total Wine made them available to customers for free.

Many major Delaware retailers offer thicker bags for their customers. (Cris Barrish / WHYY)

State Representative Gerald Brady, who supported the bill passed in June 2020, said he and other lawmakers thought stores would stop offering the thicker reusable bags when the bill went into effect in January.

“We were told it was too expensive, that it would cost retailers, and more so, that they wouldn’t use the 2.25-inch-millimeter bags,” Brady told WHYY News this week. “That was obviously not right.”

Brady says the retailer’s move has undermined the law’s intent to reduce pollution in landfills and waterways. State environmental officials said the average Delaware resident was consuming about 434 plastic bags per person per year before the law went into effect, adding to the 2,400 tons of plastic that land in Delaware landfills annually.

“The aim was to create a plastic-free environment,” he said. Instead, “we have extended the sack’s landfill time”.

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