Grocers and retailers can once again provide single-use plastic bags to customers after the Albuquerque City Council voted 6-3 in favor of repealing the Clean & Green Retail Ordinance during a March 7 meeting. Councilor Brook Bassan, who represents District 4 in the far Northeast Heights, sponsored the bill to repeal the ordinance.
“Really, this is about a moving target at this point when it comes to this study. And I feel like in any fair study it’s one of those situations where you have to have some kind of constant, and we don’t have that right now,” Bassan said.
Bassan argued that the study being conducted by the city changed so much since the ordinance was introduced that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions. “We went and we began a study and we stopped using plastic bags,” Bassan said. “And then we started using single-use plastic bags because of the pandemic. Then we changed the type of plastic to the thicker plastic bags. And now we’ve changed in the middle of this study to the stitched-handled reusable bags. So, what are we studying?” she asked.
Solid Waste Management Director Matthew Whelan gave a presentation explaining why single-use plastic bags are such a problem for the city. He said the bags cannot be recycled even though residents put them in their blue recycling bins and end up getting tangled with other items, causing contamination. He also stated that per Solid Waste Management’s contract, plastics numbered 1-7 must be recycled domestically.
“There is nowhere these can be recycled in the United States, and that’s in there so that we can prevent any type of child labor when you ship them out of the country,” Whelan said. “The third part of it is they create an enormous amount of litter for our weed and litter highway crews and for our Clean City Division. They are constantly having to pick up these bags all over as they get tangled in trees, they fly around with the wind.”
Whelan said there are very few municipalities who recycle single-use plastic bags, and in places that do have the capability, like San Francisco, the cost is “extreme.” According to Whelan, the cost for a 96-gallon refuse and recycling container in San Francisco is $98 a month. The cost for Albuquerque’s blue recycling bins cost $17 a month.
Whelen’s presentation and public comments in favor of the plastic bag ban were not convincing enough to persuade councilors to defer or vote against the repeal of the ordinance. In her opening statements Bassan said, “The point that I would like to get across is that we should allow people the choice for their priority and what they need to do that best serves their needs, rather than us mandating and telling them what to do.”
Councilors Renee Grout, Dan Lewis, Trudy Jones, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez agreed with Bassan, all voting to repeal the ban. Co-sponsors to the original bill, Isaac Benton and Pat Davis, voted against the repeal alongside District 7 Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn.
To watch a video of Monday’s city council meeting, visit cabq.legistar.com/Calendar.