Reducing Delaware’s dependence on plastic bags [video]

    (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

    (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

    Cutting down on the number of plastic bags Delawareans use, is the idea behind a bill making the rounds in Legislative Hall.

    House Bill 202 would require big stores like supermarkets and drug stores to charge customers 5 cents for each “single-use” carryout bag, paper or plastic.

    Republican Deborah Hudson is the bill’s prime sponsor.

    “That’s not a cost they must incur because they can bring a bag, the same kind — a single-use — or they can bring a heavier bag,” said Hudson, House minority whip. “No money is going to the state, so it’s not a tax, you’re really just paying for the single-use bag. And we hope to educate people that there’s a better way to do it than to take home a bag that takes 10 years to degrade.”

    The pending legislation would require stores, 7,000 sq. ft. and larger, to spend the money made on bags on recycling education programs.

    HB 202 expands on Delaware’s existing plastic bag recycling program which requires those large retailers to provide bins, usually by the doors, where customers can return their plastic bags for recycling.

    Majority of plastic bags not recycled

    Dee Durham is co-chair of BringYourOwnBag Delaware.

    “It’s estimated that only 7-9 percent of the single-use plastic bags are reused or recycled so that means more than 90 percent of the bags are either ending up in the landfill or ending up out in our environment — in our oceans, in our watersheds, hanging in our trees,” Durham said. “You also have plastic being found in fish in fish markets … So it’s actually a health issue in terms of toxics getting into our food chain.”

    Durham helped work on HB 202 from the very beginning. She says the measure is mirrored after similar legislation passed in dozens of counties and cities across the United States.

    “The idea behind this bill is that if you really need a bag, you consciously pay for it,” Durham said. “Right now everybody’s paying for them, whether you use them or not, because it’s hidden in the cost of your groceries. This is a voluntary choice that you would make to pay this fee.”

    Durham pointed out plastic bags were only invented in 1977 and believes returning to the time before plastic bags is a small step to take, especially when the payoff is immediate.

    Washington, D.C., she said, saw a 65 percent drop in plastic bag use and pollution immediately after it passed a similar measure.

    ‘We all have an obligation to our environment’

    Wilmington City Council is on board. In February, it unanimously endorsed the statewide bill addressing plastic bag pollution.

    “Plastic bags are a detriment to our society. You’ll find that a lot of your flooding results from plastic bags getting clogged up in the sewer areas. You’ll find birds, wildlife eat the plastic bags and they find them dead on the beaches,” said Theo Gregory, Wilmington city council president “And then folks also just don’t dispose of the bags properly. You’ll find them blowing around on the street.”

    Cleanup not only wastes taxpayer dollars, but it also wastes city employees’ time, when they could be working on something else, Gregory said.

    HB 202 does not include the corner stores, often seen on city street corners, but Gregory hopes to see the bill expanded in the future to include bodegas as well.

    So far, the biggest argument against HB 202 has been it will impact the poor.

    “I believe that that’s an excuse for those people who don’t want to use multi-use bags. I have not heard that aggressively from the poor, I’ve heard that from the non-poor,” Gregory said. “We all have an obligation to our environment. Because you’re poor, you have limited resources you should not be forgiven from protecting our environment for the next generations to come.”

    Gregory also said, the heavy-duty, reusable bags can be bought for as little as $0.99 and are often given away for free by nonprofits and marketing companies. 

    Sav-A-Lot supermarket on Lancaster Avenue in Wilmington is located in a low-income area. It already charges 5 cents for its bags as part of company policy.

    “Most people brought their own bags, although some were paying for it. And I asked the cashier if people have complained to him and he said, ‘No.’ So I think that it’s not a big deal. I think people just once they learn and understand the point here, it becomes automatic,” Hudson said

    If passed, Delaware would be the first state to enact a law charging a nickel for each plastic or paper bag used.

    Plastic bag world record

    Meanwhile, Delaware students from more than 12 schools and church groups are feverishly collecting clean, used plastic shopping bags hoping to create the world’s largest plastic bag ball.

    In honor of Earth Day on April 22, the kids will meet at Justison Landing Park on Wilmington’s Riverfront on April 23, to attempt to set a Guinness World Record.

    Durham’s Bring Your Own Bag Delaware and the Sierra Club Delaware Chapter organized the event. It’s designed to raise awareness about the negative environmental and cultural impacts of “disposable” bags, and to encourage people to use plastic bags less frequently and to recycle them properly.

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