AP NEWS

New Mexico’s largest metro area prepares for plastic bag ban

December 29, 2019 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Businesses in New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area are preparing for rules that will take effect with the start of the new year that call for banning plastic bags.

Officials with the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County hope the rules will encourage customers to curb their use of plastic bags that contribute to waste and take a long time to break down. But local business leaders told the Albuquerque Journal they’re being forced to switch to more expensive and less convenient options.

“You’re putting the burden on the businesses that are supporting your community,” said Ernie C’de Baca, president and CEO of the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

Restaurants will be exempt, but as many as 6,800 other businesses — from corner markets to big box stores — may be affected, said Jill Holbert, associate director for Albuquerque’s Solid Waste Department.

The Albuquerque City Council passed its “clean and green” ordinance in April. The county commission followed later in the year with a similar but separate rule banning polystyrene foam takeout containers, as well as plastic bags, at a variety of vendors in unincorporated areas of the county, including restaurants.

Both bans apply only to bags provided at the point of sale and exclude bags used to pick up bulk foods, fruits and vegetables and other products prior to the check-out line.

Nationwide, more than 240 cities, counties and states have banned plastic bags, citing the environmental impact of the bags on sewer systems and landfills. Consequently, some large retailers are taking steps to reduce the volume of plastic they use during checkout.

Some local stores are being forced to change their supply chain entirely to comply with the rules.

Kelly Ortman, co-owner of Silver Street Market, said her store will be selling its supply of plastic bags to an out-of-state vendor and switching over to paper bags. She said paper bags cost around 11 cents each, compared to about 2.5 cents for each plastic bag, an additional cost that may eventually trickle down to customers.

Companies have the option to charge a fee for providing alternatives to reusable bags, though Ortman said her market will hold off until they have a better idea of how bigger stores will approach the ban.

“I think everyone’s just waiting to see what the big guys will do,” Ortman said.

Ortman said she was concerned that the ban might be harder on her customers. Because of Silver Street Market’s location in downtown Albuquerque, she said more of her customers walk or ride bikes, and paper bags can be harder to handle on a bike.

The city and county have reached out to business owners and customers to let them know the ins and outs of the new rules. County spokesman Larry Gallegos said letters were sent to every company that would be affected by the ban in unincorporated areas of the county and a list of frequently asked questions was posted on the county website.

Gallegos said companies can keep using plastic bags and polystyrene takeout containers that they purchased prior to the start of January. He added that the county will be lenient with businesses that are working to comply with the new rules.

“We’ve always been about compliance and not about punishing people,” Gallegos said.