Delaware’s new plastic bag ban begins. How stores are reacting

With the modified ban on plastic bags starting Friday, many more retailers and their customers will have to adjust the way they do business.

With the exception of restaurants, all businesses – including those not previously subject to the plastic bag ban – will be banned from distributing take-out plastic bags.

Customers of these businesses will have to think about how to adapt since some stores will offer reusable bags for free, some for a fee, and others will not offer any bags for purchases.

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

Store employee Rachel Arter explained that this was because the store owner is based in New Jersey, where plastic bag restrictions are stricter than in Delaware. After New Jersey’s ban went into effect, the Nut & Candy Depot also stopped offering plastic bags in Delaware, Arter said.

Arter said she doesn’t see how buyers would be bothered by the updated law in Delaware. In their store, customers can always get paper bags for free, or they can buy a larger handle bag for 25 cents. Plus, customers still have the option of bringing their own bags, she said.

Nut & Candy Depot customer Amy Nazdrowicz said she has no problem with the store’s new policy. She’s always hated plastic bags, she says, and she’s “super excited that these reusable bags are everywhere now.”

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

Due to the state's new plastic bag ban, some retailers are offering reusable bags for a fee.

Troubled by new restrictions

Unlike Nazdrowicz, customers visiting Wilmington stores owned by Tom Nashal would have a problem, he said. Nashal owns two small convenience stores in Wilmington and thinks banning plastic bags isn’t 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 confused if he did not provide plastic bags.

“They don’t like to carry all this with their hands and they don’t want to bring their own bags,” he said.

He further explained that people who frequent his businesses are unaware of the new law banning plastic bags and will think it is a policy he instituted as an inconvenience to them. Nashal said that even though 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 plastic bags to his customers, he said they got angry and left the store empty-handed.

“Maybe I lost a customer because of this 10 cent bag,” he said, adding that he would continue to distribute the plastic bags if they asked.

Reactions from major retailers to the two versions of the ban

An informal investigation by Delaware Online/The News Journal staff found that major retailers like Walmart and Acme continued to offer the heavy 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 offers no free bags.

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

Prohibited plastic bag provided at retailer's point of sale

Sylvia, manager of a Family Dollar store near Wilmington, said her store continued to distribute the banned plastic bag to customers because that’s what the company’s supplier sent to the store to distribute.

A Family Dollar customer who asked to be identified only as Jason explained that if he was going to a store, the company would have to absorb the cost of providing the bag so he could have an easy and convenient to carry your purchases.

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

What’s wrong with plastic bags?

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

Because plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it’s ruinous for Delaware’s tourism industry, costs taxpayers more to deal with, and is so prevalent that “studies have proven we actually eat plastic,” said Dee Durham, president of Plastic Free Delaware. Formed in 2010, Plastic Free Delaware is a coalition of organizations working to reduce plastic pollution.

The group was instrumental in passing the plastic bag ban in Delaware. In the nine years leading up to the January 2021 plastic bag ban, the group has worked to educate lawmakers, families and consumers about the cost of using plastic bags, both on both environmentally and economically.

DNREC's public awareness campaign for Delaware's new plastic bag ban includes posters like this

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

In addition to health effects, the current rise in gasoline prices and rising household energy prices are also linked to the manufacture of plastic bags. The number 1 plastic polluter in the world is the 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 bills itself as America’s leading environmental solutions provider. The amount of oil in about 14 plastic bags is equal to the amount of gasoline needed to travel 1 mile.

A solution that became a problem

It’s not like we’ve always had plastic bags. Celloplast’s “plastic t-shirt bag” was invented in 1965 and not widely available to shoppers until 1985.

In the early 1980s, the push for the use of plastic bags by petrochemical companies was supported by environmentalists because they believed it was a better alternative to cutting down forests for paper bags, “but we’ve since learned that there are all sorts of unintended consequences that are worse,” Durham said.

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Yet the use of plastic bags was not used by all retailers everywhere. Costco and BJ in the US and most grocers in Europe have never adopted the practice of providing customers with free plastic bags. Now, due to new restrictions in Delaware, shoppers here will have to relearn or develop new habits when patronizing stores affected by the ban.

Confectionery 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. It should have happened a long time ago.

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

Bryce K. Locke