Delaware's updated plastic bag ban begins. Here's what to expect at local stores

·6 min read

With the amended plastic bag ban taking effect Friday, many more retailers and their customers will need to adjust the way they conduct business.

Other than restaurants, all businesses – including those not previously subject to the plastic bag ban – will be prohibited from distributing plastic carryout bags.

Customers of these businesses will have to contemplate how to adapt since some stores will be offering reusable bags for free, some at a cost and some not offering any bags for purchases at all.

The Nut & Candy Depot in New Castle offers nuts and confections by the piece and the pound. Although the store is exempt from the plastic bag ban because it sells food items, the store no longer offers plastic bags for customers to carry their treats.

Store employee Rachel Arter explained this is because the store’s owner is based in New Jersey, which has tougher plastic bag restrictions than Delaware. Once New Jersey’s ban went into effect, the Nut & Candy Depot stopped offering plastic bags in Delaware, too, Arter said.

Arter said she doesn’t see how shoppers would be inconvenienced by the updated law in Delaware. At their store, customers can still get paper bags for free, or they can buy a larger handled bag for 25 cents. Plus, customers always have the option to bring their own bags, she said.

Amy Nazdrowicz, a customer at the Nut & Candy Depot, said the store's new policy is no problem for her. She has always hated plastic bags, she said, and she is “super excited that these reusable bags are everywhere now.”

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Toting several reusable bags, Nazdrowicz said that she usually remembers to bring her own bag, but if she ever forgot to bring a bag in a store with her, “I would just carry it all out in my hands to the car because I refuse to use plastic bags − ever.”

Troubled by the new restrictions

Unlike Nazdrowicz, the customers that visit the Wilmington stores that Tom Nashal owns would have a problem, he said. Nashal owns two small corner stores in Wilmington and thinks the plastic bag ban is not good for businesses like his. He fears the new law will negatively impact his relationship with his customers – many of whom live within walking distance of his stores.

The neighborhood store owner said his customers would be troubled if he didn’t provide plastic bags.

"They don't like to carry all this stuff with their hands, and they don't want to bring their own bags," he said.

He further explained that the people who frequent his businesses do not know about the new law banning plastic bags and will think this is a policy he instituted as an inconvenience to them. Nashal said that even if he charged a nominal fee, his customers would reject the idea of paying for a bag.

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When he previously tried to refuse to give his customers plastic bags, he said they got upset and left the store empty-handed.

"Maybe I lost a customer because of this 10-cent bag," he said, adding that he will continue to give out the plastic bags if they ask.

Large retailers' reactions to both versions of ban

An informal survey conducted by Delaware Online/The News Journal staff found that larger retailers like Walmart and Acme continued to offer the thick plastic bags for free in the days leading up to the updated ban. Target is now offering reusable bags for free − temporarily. Grocers like Trader Joe's continue to offer paper bags or reusable bags for purchase, while Aldi doesn't offer any free bags.

Banned plastic bags were obtained from bargain retailers Dollar General and Family Dollar as recently as June.

Banned plastic bag provided at retailer point of sale
Banned plastic bag provided at retailer point of sale

Sylvia, a store manager at a Family Dollar near Wilmington, said that her store continued to distribute the banned plastic bag to customers because that is what the corporate-owned company’s supplier sent the store to give out.

A Family Dollar customer who asked to be identified only as Jason explained that if he is patronizing a store, then the business should absorb the cost of providing the bag so he can have an easy and convenient means to carry his purchases.

“Give it to me in paper. Give me a nylon bag. Give me a cloth bag," Jason said. "Give me something for my money!”

What's the problem with plastic bags?

Each Delawarean uses about 434 plastic bags a year, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which amounts to nearly 2,400 tons of plastic bags that end up in landfills, waterways and the ocean.

Because plastic does not biodegrade, it is ruinous to Delaware’s tourism industry, costs taxpayers more to treat, and is so pervasive that “studies have proven that we're actually eating plastic,” said Dee Durham, chair of Plastic Free Delaware. Formed in 2010, Plastic Free Delaware is a coalition of organizations seeking to reduce plastic pollution.

The group was instrumental in getting the plastic bag ban passed in Delaware. In the nine years leading up to the January 2021 plastic bag ban, the group worked to educate legislators, families and consumers about the cost of plastic bag usage – both environmentally and economically.

The plastic typically used in bottles, bags and food containers contains chemical additives, which act as endocrine disruptors that are associated with negative health effects including cancers, birth defects and immune system suppression in humans and wildlife.

In addition to health effects, today’s higher gas prices and increased home energy prices are also tied to plastic bag manufacturing. The No. 1 plastic polluter in the world is petrochemical company ExxonMobil.

Derived from fossil oil, natural gas and coal, plastic bags require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture, according to Waste Management, now WM, which calls itself America’s leading provider of environmental solutions. The amount of petroleum in about 14 plastic bags is equal to the amount of gas needed to drive 1 mile.

A solution that became a problem

It isn't like we've always had plastic bags. Celloplast's "T-shirt plastic bag," was invented in 1965 and not widely available to shoppers until 1985.

In the early '80s, the push to use plastic bags by petrochemical companies was supported by environmentalists because they thought it was a better alternative to cutting down forests for paper bags, "but we've since learned that there's all kinds of unintended consequences that are worse," Durham said.

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Still, the use of plastic bags was not utilized by all retailers everywhere. Costco and BJs in the U.S. and most grocers in Europe never adopted the practice of providing customers with free plastic bags. Now, because of Delaware's new restrictions, shoppers here will need to relearn or develop new habits when patronizing stores impacted by the ban.

Candy store customer Nazdrowicz said, “People don't like change and it's going to take some getting used to.”

"But," she added, “I think it was a long time coming. This should have happened a long time ago.”

Contact reporter Anitra Johnson at ajohnson@delawareonline.com or 302-379-5786 with story ideas and tips. To get unlimited access to all of her reporting and the latest news, please subscribe.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware's new plastic bag ban begins. How stores are responding