In an effort to encourage Delaware citizens to increase their recycling of plastic carryout bags obtained at retail stores, a new statewide law went into effect December 1, 2009 requiring certain retail stores to set up a plastic carry-out bag recycling program for customers. Stores with 7,000 square feet or more of retail space, or that have three or more stores of at least 3,000 square feet of retail sales space which provide plastic carry out bags to customers, are required to comply with the law.
Stores must place clearly labled bins in an easily accessible location so that customers are encouraged to deposit clean bags which will then be recycled. The law also requires plastic bag manufacturers to print on the bags language encouraging the recycling of the bags. More information about the new carryout bag recycling law can be found in House Bill 15 and in the corresponding section of the Delaware code.
Why Recycle Plastic Bags?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that no more than five percent of plastic grocery bags are recycled in the United States. This equates to more than 100 million plastic bags that become trash and end up in landfills or littered along our beaches, waterways, parks and roads.
Plastic bags can be dangerous to marine animals and other wildlife that ingest them or are strangled by them. Plastic bags that get buried in landfills may take up to 1,000 years to break down, and in the process they separate into smaller and smaller toxic particles that contaminate soil and water. Furthermore, the production of plastic bags consumes millions of gallons of oil that could be used for fuel and heating. Recycled plastic bags provide valuable material to manufacturers of plastic lumber, plastic bags and other useful products.
The Ocean Conservancy reports that plastic bags are second only to cigarette butts as the most frequent marine trash collected during world-wide Coastal Cleanup volunteer efforts. At Delaware's 2008 Coastal Cleanup Day, volunteers picked up 4,131 bags along the state's beaches.
Avoiding the Use of Plastic Bags Helps Even More
Instead of using a plastic bag, you can use a canvas, cloth or durable plastic bag. Reusable bags are more environmentally friendly than paper or plastic. Under the law, any store required to recycle plastic bags must also sell reusable bags.
What are Stores Required to Do?
- Establish an "at-store" plastic bag recycling program. Stores must make collection bins for plastic bag recycling available to customers in a visible, easily accessible location.
- Ensure that collected plastic bags are actually recycled. Stores are prohibited from disposing of the bags as solid waste (trash). Stores should contact their waste/recycling hauler to get assurances that plastic bags are properly handled and recycled.
- Label all plastic bags. No later than August 1, 2010, any bags distributed in effected stores must state “Please Return This Bag To A Participating Store For Recycling” or a similar message that encourages the reuse or recycling of plastic carryout bags. Bags may be printed with other messages or logos.
- Keep records. Stores are required to maintain records describing the collection and recycling of plastic bags and make them available to DNREC upon request.
- Sell reusable bags. Stores are required to offer reusable bags to their customers for purchase and allow the use of reusable shopping bags. (A reusable bag is made of cloth or other fabric that has handles or is a durable plastic bag with handles made for multiple uses).
If I bring my bags back for recycling, does that mean I am getting used bags at the check out?
No. All plastic bags collected in this program will be sent to a recycling facility.
What about bags that are not clean, for example with food residue, or that I have reused and are now dirty?
Unfortunately, these bags cannot be recycled and must be treated as a solid waste (trash).
I think my store is covered by the law, but there are no collection bins for plastic bags. What should I do?
Please contact the store manager or call the Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Branch at (302) 739-9403.
What happens if stores fail to comply with the law?
The law provides for a penalty of up to $500 for the first violation, up to $1,000 for a second violation, and up to $2,000 for the third and each subsequent violation.
For more information, please contact the Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Branch at (302) 739-9403.