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Proposed plastic ban needs clarification, changes

As the debate intensifies over the city of Albuquerque’s proposed plastics ban, I am sharing my opinion as an Albuquerque resident employed as the catering director at a local popular restaurant.

Personally, I am in favor of reducing waste, recycling and reusing as often as possible. Professionally, I am against a ban on plastics that does not consider the financial impacts as it relates to the restaurant industry and expansion plans.

The proposed ban is confusing and will do little to combat the issues that have been in the forefront, i.e., eliminating plastic bags and drinking straws. Currently, the ordinance bans all single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers. As concerned business constituents, the restaurant owner and I met with all City Council members. We asked which items will be restricted and every council member had different answers.

Some were unaware due to the lack of definitions within the ordinance and others assumed it was only plastic bags and straws.

We have yet to receive a response from Councilor Pat Davis, a co-sponsor of the ordinance, as to what that may include after repeated requests. We and our restaurant supplier have contacted Davis, but he has not responded.

The ordinance as written has the potential to impact our business starting from $200,000 or more annually, depending on what items are included as part of this ban. As catering director, the increase in cost to my department is still unknown. We use disposable plates, cups and cutlery that may or may not be included in this ban as they are “single use.”

There needs to be an education component for the public to learn how to dispose of take-out containers and plastic bags correctly.

As part of our fact-finding investigation, we learned about what is recycled in Albuquerque. To our surprise, what we thought is recyclable is not and ultimately ends up in the landfill. This is known as “wishful recycling.” Containers soiled with food will end up in the landfill.

After conducting our research, restricting polystyrene take-out containers does not reduce the amount of waste or litter generated, but instead it is simply replaced by a more expensive item within the waste and litter stream.

We also met with New Mexico Recycling Coalition. They agree that definitions are needed and agree with providing plastic drinking straws to customers upon request. The Recycling Coalition understood restaurants cannot allow customers to pick up their prepared take-out food with their own bags or containers for food safety reasons.

The proposed ordinance is the most restrictive plastics ban in the country. I encourage Albuquerque City Councilors to read the City of Santa Fe ordinance for guidance. It includes smart exemptions for restaurants.

Currently, alternative green products are not readily available in the volume we need and the cost is three to four times our current supply cost.

During a recent town hall meeting, Davis mentioned there are green friendly options which are more cost effective from retail stores that sell in bulk; however, as a restaurant we must purchase supplies from an approved source with a supply chain.

It is impossible and not smart for us to shop and pick up restaurant supplies from big box stores like Sam’s Club, as suggested by Davis. They do not carry the volume we need for the number of restaurants we operate within Albuquerque.

I realize this opinion may depict me and my employer as only considering costs. I assure you we are concerned about our environmental impact and keeping Albuquerque clean and beautiful for generations to come.

We will continue to explore environmentally friendly options with the hope of finding containers that are cost effective and allow for safe transport of our food. We know what is best for our brand and customers, not city councilors with green ambitions.

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