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Plastic bag ban goes into effect in Santa Fe

Plastic bags like those Lisa and Leroy Varela, from Pecos were using for groceries at the Smith's on Cerrillos Road are on their way out in Santa Fe. But stores can still provide paper bags, at no charge, to shoppers. The City Council late Wednesday dropped a required 10 cent fee for paper bags that was intended to encourage shops to bring reusable bags. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
Plastic bags like those Lisa and Leroy Varela, from Pecos were using for groceries at the Smith's on Cerrillos Road are on their way out in Santa Fe. But stores can still provide paper bags, at no charge, to shoppers. The City Council late Wednesday dropped a required 10 cent fee for paper bags that was intended to encourage shops to bring reusable bags. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)
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Santa Fe’s City Council approved amendments to its single-use plastic bag ordinance Wednesday, removing a requirement that retailers charge a 10-cent fee for each paper bag distributed to customers.

The ordinance, originally passed last August, goes into effect today (Feb. 27) and makes Santa Fe the first city in the state to impose such a law.

However, another amendment approved Wednesday puts into place a 30-day “implementation period” allowing businesses a grace period before enforcement.

The amendments passed, 7-1, with councilor Ron Trujillo casting the lone “no” vote. He said he did so because the ordinance doesn’t cover all plastic bags and to be consistent with previous votes he’s taken on the issue.

The ordinance applies to grocery stores and retail shops that provide plastic bags less than 2.25 mils thick to customers. Restaurants, businesses that sell takeout food and nonprofit organizations are exempt.

If a business is found to be in violation of the ordinance, the city will issue a written warning notice. Subsequent violations will subject the store to a fine of up to $100 per day.

The recommendation to drop the 10-cent charge for paper bags came from the city attorney’s office, which determined that mandating the fee could constitute an illegal tax.

Similar ordinances that require fees to be charged for bags have been subjected to court challenges in California and Colorado.

The charge was intended to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. Now, it will be up to stores to decide whether to charge a fee for paper bags.

The stated purpose of the ordinance is to conserve resources, reduce waste, litter and pollution, and protect the public health and welfare. It goes on to say that the city recognized that plastic carry-out bags do not biodegrade and remain in the environment for hundreds of years. When they do break down, the toxic plastic bits contaminate soil and water and enter the food web when inadvertently swallowed by animals.

The ordinance, modeled after one adopted by the city of Seattle, calls for the city’s Environmental Services Division to conduct a survey of affected retail establishments in an effort to measure the financial impact, with the results given to the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission.

The commission is then required to produce a report within 12 months of the effective date of the bag ban. The report is to also include an analysis of the effectiveness of the ordinance compared to other cities attempting to reduce the use of single-use carry out bags. Los Angeles, Seattle, Tucson, Washington, D.C. are among the cities leading the effort.

The Sustainable Santa Fe Commission is also required to do a comparative analysis of retailers that charge for paper bags and reusable bags and those that do not.

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