Delaware House approves ban on plastic bags

Delaware State News | by Matt Bittle

DOVER — The House passed legislation Tuesday that would bar certain stores from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.

By a 33-7 vote, with one member absent, the chamber approved the legislation, which is supported by Gov. John Carney. It now goes to the Senate.

House Bill 130 would restrict establishments from giving consumers bags that are “made from non-compostable plastic and not specifically designed and manufactured to be reusable.” The measure would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and would still allow businesses to provide paper, fabric or reusable plastic bags.

The proposal would apply 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 3,000 square feet. Restaurants would be excluded.

The bill has a few exceptions allowing plastic bags to be provided in certain circumstances, such as holding frozen foods, chemicals or live animals.

Supporters say the measure will benefit planet Earth by minimizing the use of a product that takes centuries to break down.

“As long as we don’t as government issue the mandate to stop the use of these type of items that are destructive to the environment, destructive to the planet, destructive to the health and welfare of not just species out in the ocean but health and welfare of human beings, we are complicit in saying we’re going to let the free market control this. … Free market is nonexistent for the people,” Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said on the House floor.

“Free market is only existent for the businesses that feed off it, and to not insist that we’re no longer going to tolerate the creation or manufacture of plastic bags by taking the market share off the market, the use of these bags, we are being remiss, and I don’t think it’s a government overreach.”

But other lawmakers cited several reasons for voting against the measure, saying it will increase costs and cause more people to use paper bags, which cause greater pollution in production than paper ones.

“The store is going to have to incur some of that cost, but they also pass some of that through and the individuals with the least are going to be hurt the most by it,” Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, told fellow representatives.

Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, painted the bill as an example of overregulation and urged legislators to let the market sort things out. Instead of passing laws, he said, the General Assembly should focus on educating the public about the environmental harm caused by plastic bags.

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 was the first state to ban single-use plastic bags, approving legislation in 2014, although the measure did not go into effect for several years. The state also requires stores 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.

According to the Delaware Nature Society, Americans use 1.8 billion plastic bags a week.

In a statement, Gov. Carney applauded the House passing the proposal, which he said “will help clean up our state and give us another tool to protect our environment.”

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