Waiting in line at the grocery store can really test the patience of some, especially during a pandemic. Staring at carts full of groceries hoping the frozen pizzas stay cold and that the eggs do not crack while waiting in a line pushed back to the bread aisle can cause many emotions to stir. People may find themselves looking ahead to figure out what is taking so long, only to notice that some customers do not have reusable bags and are arguing with the clerk.
Shoppers in the state of Delaware have had to make a slight change to their normal routines due to a new law being implemented statewide.
As of Jan. 1, distributors are no longer able to offer single use plastic bags for carry out due to the new rule. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags on average each year, which also requires about 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The ban is part of a program aimed to promote reusable bags and positively impact the environment. Created and presented by the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), the law also creates an in-store recycling program for businesses to oversee.
The ban on plastic bags has been met with mixed reactions by the public. Just as people have voiced their opposition of the law, others have voiced positive support for cleaning up the environment.
The recent change has come at a time where the lingering COVID-19 pandemic has already changed the way people shop. Customers must now look to purchasing their own reusable bags or pay unaccounted-for fees in store alternatives like paper.
“Another problem is this will have more people using reusable grocery bags that are a major health concern in today’s environment,” Andrew Brubacker, Delaware resident and frequent shopper, said. “It’s like carrying around a major germ bank into public places.”
Although there may not be evidence to back this up yet, it seems Brubacker is not alone in his beliefs.
The pandemic does not make transitioning into eco-friendly shopping any easier. There are many people who may support the law but do not agree with the timing of it being enacted.
Currently, many businesses have been using no-contact curbside systems. The new law creates a rather controversial issue in situations where bags had to be exchanged from customer to clerk multiple times.
The new bag system also creates more problems for the elderly, who are much more vulnerable to the virus.
“I have been taking advantage of the curbside pickup at my local grocery store,” Kathy Phelps, a 71-year-old Delaware resident, said. “I will need to provide reusable bags that multiple people will eventually handle, which is what I’d like to avoid.”
In Delaware, larger stores of over 7,000 square feet and smaller stores with three or more locations of over 3,000 square feet will now require the use of alternative bags according to Section 14 of DNREC’s guidelines.
These specifications are to combat the reported average of 1,500 plastic bags that each family brings home per year, according to the Center for Biological Diversity of Delaware. It is also estimated that 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags per year. Plastic bags are typically perceived as simple, harmless carriers, but people do not realize the impact they have on the environment.
“I am highly in favor of banning single use plastic bags,” Sara Woodward, a Delaware resident and environmental science professor at Randolph College, said. “It is time to remove this harmful option.”
With the new law already in effect, businesses are able to begin manufacturing and selling their own reusable alternatives. In a presentation by the DNREC, the definition of a reusable bag is clearly explained.
As outlined by the DNREC, reusable bags must meet the following criteria:
- Is either a bag made of cloth or other fabric that has handles or is a durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 2.25 mils thick
- Is designed and manufactured to be used for at least 125 uses.
- Has a volume capacity of at least 4 gallons (equivalent to 15 liters or 924 cubic inches).
- Is machine washable or made from a material that can be cleaned and disinfected.
- Does not contain lead, cadmium, or any other toxic material that may pose a threat to public health. A reusable bag manufacturer may demonstrate compliance with this requirement by obtaining a no objection letter from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
- Complies with 16 C.F.R. § 260.12 related to recyclable claims if the reusable grocery bag producer makes a claim that the reusable grocery bag is recyclable.
- A reusable carryout bag made from plastic film shall also meet the following requirements: it shall be capable of carrying 22 pounds over a distance of 175 feet for a minimum of 125 uses and be at least 2.25 mils thick, measured according to the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard D6988-13.
With this in mind, the DNREC has constructed their own example of a reusable plastic bag.
The new reusable bag appears to be similar to the original style; however, it is thicker-layered and designed to survive wear and tear in order to allow for continual use. Little is known about the dependability the bags currently offer, so other materials like cotton and non-woven polypropylene have been made acceptable.
Larger corporations have already taken it into their own hands to create a store brand alternative, and have designed their own reusable bags to meet the specifications required by the new law.
ShopRite, a leading grocery store chain in America, has begun offering compostable bags which serve at least 100 uses and are biodegradable. ShopRite also promises that the bag can break down in 90 days, in comparison to the 500-year average of normal plastic bags.An example of one of the reusable bags that ShopRite currently offers.
Sean Smith/THE REVIEW
Delaware is not the first state to implement this law. Eight states have already banned single-use plastic bags, including California and New York. These bans are popping up amid the growing ocean pollution crisis, with the leading cause of ocean pollution today being plastic that enters the oceans from landfills and everyday litter.
It is estimated that only 1% of plastic bags are recycled each year, leaving the overwhelming 99% to landfills, according to Waste Management, Inc.
The new law shows the upsides that this change will bring while also highlighting some negative aspects — mostly due to timing. Regardless, the DNREC has taken the public’s insight seriously and has been continuously reviewing and making corrections deemed necessary.
Recently, a university research team working with Phys.org discovered a substantial concentration of microplastics in the Delaware Bay.
With the implementation of these new bags, communities can hope to see a drop in ocean plastic pollution being released from Delaware in the coming years.