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Exempt restaurants from ABQ plastics ban

Albuquerque restaurants kindly ask the City Council to reconsider the ban on plastics.

The plastic ordinance being considered at the Albuquerque city council tonight appears to be one of the most restrictive in the country. Most municipalities pass plastic bag bans on grocery stores. This Albuquerque ban goes even further, and includes all retail establishments and most plastic products – plastic bags, plastic straws and plastic containers.

When considering restaurant food take-out orders, just think of your favorite red or green chile being soaked up by a cardboard container or, worse, leaking into the bottom of your paper bag to the point where you pick it up, and the bottom falls out, and you have a chile nightmare on your clothes and carpet.

The ordinance also allows retail establishments to charge up to 10 cents for each bag or container issued to customers in order to defray the additional cost to buy the “recyclable” alternative.

The cost for grocery stores to switch from plastic to paper is less than 10 cents a bag, so grocery stores can make money on a 10-cent city surcharge. Restaurant containers are more expensive and the biodegradable replacement is significantly more expensive – in some cases up to $2 more per container. A 10-cent city surcharge doesn’t come close to making up the difference in restaurants.

Keep in mind most quick-service restaurant chains have already gone to paper products, so this ordinance would mostly hit small local businesses, not big chain restaurants. Many restaurants are experimenting with biodegradable and recyclable containers where they can. Consumers are more environmentally aware and restaurants are responding by offering recyclable alternatives. Forcing this ban will be a disadvantage for these small restaurants until the alternative is more effective and cheaper.

Consumers cannot bring their own reusable containers or bags into a restaurant because restaurants are required by law to serve food in a clean, unused receptacle in order to avoid foodborne illness. The chain of responsibility is broken when customers are encouraged to bring their own bags to transport cooked food. If a restaurant allows a contaminated multi-use bag to transport their food product, the resulting food-borne illness and subsequent lawsuit would be devastating to a restaurant’s reputation.

Most plastic bans only deal with plastic bags at grocery stores. Many municipalities carve out restaurants, understanding the importance of food safety.

The Winter Park, Colo., City Council met Feb. 5 to debate an ordinance that would force food and retail stores to charge a fee for all disposable bags. After hearing testimony about food safety and the hardship of charging customers a fee, the council inserted language that specifically excluded restaurants from the ordinance with a vote of 7 to 1.

The Santa Fe City Council recently considered a plastic straw ban in restaurants and decided to work with local restaurants to encourage straws only upon request instead of a full ban. Albuquerque could do the same.

Please consider the burden you are putting on the small local restaurants and their customers in Albuquerque. Maybe the city could consider supporting voluntary efforts, which allow restaurants to implement policies that work for their brands and customers. We ask that the Albuquerque City Council exclude restaurants in this version of the bill.

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