Shopping in Delaware? Here are Four Alternatives for Plastic Carryout Bags

By Barbara Blaier and Gregory Williams

Shopping With Reusable Bags

Has shopping under Delaware’s new plastic carryout bag ban got you wondering “is my reusable bag really better than the old grocery bags?”

The short answer is “yes.”

Any reusable bag is better than a one-use carryout plastic bag

Single-use plastic bags are a problem for our environment and our communities. Plastic bags take centuries to decompose, according to the World Wildlife Fund. When bags end up in our landfills — or worse — in the environment, they stay there. The plastic pollution can negatively impact wildlife for years to come.

Delawareans use about 2,400 tons of plastic bags each year, or about 434 bags per person. We can reduce plastic use by choosing reusable bags and properly recycling the plastic bags we already have.

Here are four alternatives to the single-use plastic carryout bags.

Bring Back Your Thicker, Reusable Plastic Bags

Look for the LabelSome stores have swapped out single-use carryout plastic bags for thicker plastic bags, and this change may have you thinking “how is this better?” These bags are sturdier, which makes them excellent reusable bags. In fact, under the new law, these bags are required to be designed and manufactured to be used at least 125 times. They’re also larger, which means you need less of them to bag all of your groceries.

Not only are these bags reusable, but they’re also recyclable, just like other plastic bags. Just make sure to recycle them the right way! All plastic bags must be recycled by returning them to the store and depositing them into an At-Store Recycling drop-off bin. Plastic bags should not go into curbside recycling carts at home. They can only be recycled by returning them to the store.

Paper Bags are Reusable, Recyclable and Quick to Decompose

Paper BagUnder the new law in Delaware, affected stores can choose to provide paper bags in place of the single-use carryout plastic bags.

One of the main reasons for the single-use carryout plastic bag ban in Delaware is to reduce litter that would negatively impact wildlife. Plastic bags take centuries to breakdown, resulting in mass amounts of litter if not disposed of properly.

Paper bags tackle this problem. They can be reused a few times. They are able to be recycled in curbside recycling carts.

Most paper bags also decompose in about six months, which is much quicker than other materials and it decreases the likelihood that they may become a source of litter and pose a dangerous risk to wildlife.

Woven or Non-Woven Polypropylene Bags are Extremely Sturdy and Can Be Made from Recycled Material

Green Fabric BagDepending on the process in which these bags are made, non-woven or woven polypropylene bags are still a reliable option to help reduce plastic pollution. The main reason why – they are also reusable. While polypropylene is a form of plastic, and therefore doesn’t break down for an extremely long time, the sturdiness of these bags make them a long-lasting alternative, as long as you reuse them.

Some of these bags made from non-woven polypropylene are manufactured from recycled material, which is a sustainable alternative. Bags made from recycled material provide a market for recycled plastic bags, closing the life cycle loop on plastic bags. They provide a reusable option to decrease our demand for single-use plastic bags.

These bags are also very easy to clean with a simple wipe down or spray from a disinfectant.

Canvas or Cloth Bags are Reusable and Easy to Clean

Canvas ToteCloth bags are another alternative to single-use plastic carryout bags. They are designed to be heavy-duty and can be reused up to a lifetime. They’re also easy to clean. Just toss them into the washer with your clothes.

If you’re looking for an option to limit your small carbon footprint from the manufacturing process, choose bags that are made from recycled materials or sustainable cloth like organic cotton.

Check With Your Store

Check with your local store or retailer about what options they have available. No matter what kind of bag you use, the key is to choose to reuse and recycle properly. Even the thicker plastic bags you may be receiving from stores across the state are an alternative to single-use carryout plastic bags, as long as you reuse them as much as possible and recycle them properly. Plastic bags are only recyclable by returning them to stores and should not go into curbside recycling carts. Bags that are recyclable will have a recycling symbol on them with instructions on how to recycle them, like bringing them back to the store.

Sometimes you may not need a bag at all, especially if you’re only purchasing a handful of items. Reusable bags of any kind are the most sustainable option for every shopping occasion. Whether you’re going to the grocery store, a retail shop or even the pharmacy, remember to bring your own bag (#BYOBagDE).

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Barbara Blaier and Gregory Williams are environmental scientists with the DNREC Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances.