As of Jan. 1, 2021, single-use plastic bags will be banned at the point-of-sale (at the checkout counter) in many stores in Delaware. That leaves stores as well as customers with a choice that one local store owner says no one should have to be making in the midst of a pandemic.
Gerry Hocker, whose family owns four stores in Sussex County, said they have decided to begin charging customers 10 cents a bag – the stores’ cost per bag – for reusable plastic bags as of Jan. 1.
“Single-use bags are just that,” Hocker said. “When you look at it from the standpoint of the environment, its probably a good thing,” he said “but the timing couldn’t be worse.”
“Now the consumer is going to have to purchase bags,” Hocker said, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on many people’s wallets. “A lot of people just don’t have the disposable income to purchase extra things,” he said.
Although Hocker noted that when the state Legislature passed House Bill 130 and its companion bill, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 5 in July 19 “COVID wasn’t around,” he felt the bill shouldn’t be enacted at this time because of the added cost.
“They came up with a law without a remedy,” Hocker said.
He said his family felt that moving to paper bags was not a good option for their stores, both from an environmental standpoint and because they cost more. “They would probably cost us 20 cents apiece,” he said.
“We feel we’ve done our best to come up with a low-cost alternative,” Hocker said.
While reusable cloth bags may still be used, customers who bring them in must bag their own groceries, he said, adding that his family gave employees the option of handling them when the pandemic hit, and the cashiers opted not to, citing concerns about the bags potentially carrying germs brought from customers’ homes.
He stressed that customers can bring anything they want into the store if they opt to bag their own groceries “a box, a single-use bag, even a coat,” he said. The new, heavier plastic bags, however, will be the only ones cashiers will use to bag groceries.
Hocker said the biggest down side of the law as he sees it is that “the state did a poor job of communicating what the law is.” He also said he feels it is “almost a discrimination against larger retailers. If they’re going to ban it, it should be for everybody.” All four of his family’s stores – two grocery stores, a convenience store and a hardware store – are affected by the plastic bag ban, he said.
He noted that his father, State Sen. Gerald R. Hocker Sr., did not vote for the plastic bag ban.
According to DNREC, plastic carryout bags will no longer be available from larger stores (more than 7,000 square feet), as well as from smaller stores with at least three locations in Delaware of 3,000 square feet each or more. Supermarkets and big-box stores are affected, as well as chains of convenience stores. Restaurants are not subject to the ban, nor are small stores with one or two locations.
Consumers and retailers can find more information at de.gov/bags.