Headed to Delaware beaches next year? Bring your own bags

When you head to Rehoboth, Bethany or Fenwick next year, be aware: A ban on plastic carryout bags starts in larger stores, including grocery and convenience stores, on Jan. 1.

You won’t find single-use plastic bags at larger Delaware stores — those over 7,000 square feet, or those with at least three locations that are 3,000 square feet or more.

“This law will help Delaware reduce the number of plastic bags that too often litter our beaches and roads,” said Nikki Lavoie, chief of public affairs for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

That means you won’t see them in grocery stores, pharmacies or big box stores. You’ll need to either bring or buy reusable bags.

Merchants can choose to offer paper bags, cloth bags or a thicker type of plastic bag that is designed to be reusable, according to the new state law. Stores can charge a fee for the bags they provide, or they could opt not to provide bags.

“Customers should be able to leave the store with fewer bags holding the same number of items, which is good, we want to reduce the plastic,” Lavoie said. “We’re encouraging consumers to use reusable bags whenever they shop.”

Violating the law can lead to a $500 fine for the first violation, up to $1,000 for the second violation and up to $2,000 for the third, and each subsequent, violation for stores that do not comply.

The aim is to reduce litter, help wildlife and save landfill space. Getting rid of the bags will help recycling facilities. Machinery sometimes has to shut down when plastic bags get stuck.

Small stores with one or two locations won’t be affected, nor will restaurants.

According to Delaware, fewer than 10% of plastic carryout bags are recycled or reused across the U.S.

“Each Delawarean uses about 434 plastic bags, and that means nearly 2,400 tons of plastic bags end up in our landfills, annually,” said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin in a news release.

“A decrease by the public of plastic carryout bags can mitigate a large portion of this waste, and help our environment by reducing the amount plastic bags on our roads and waterways that can harm us and our wildlife.”

DNREC suggests washing or disinfecting the reusable bags you take to the store.

“There will not be single-use plastic carryout bags or the bags that you generally would get at checkout, but single-use plastic bags will still be available in your produce aisle or when you wrap your meat,” Lavoie said.

See the specifics of the plastic bag ban in Delaware online.

Delaware joins four other U.S. states — California, Hawaii, New York and Oregon — that have bag bans. New Jersey has a ban that goes into effect in May 2022. More than a dozen other states have bans or fees at the county or town level, including Maryland’s Montgomery County.

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