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Ban would keep 120 million plastic bags out of ABQ landfills, new analysis says

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A plastic bag ban in Albuquerque could keep about 120 million such bags out of the landfill each year and another 20 million from storm drain systems and rivers, according to a newly released economic analysis of a proposed ban.

An effective ban could also save the city millions in clean-up expenses, according to the report prepared by City Council staff.

But the move could cost businesses and consumers more, the study said, and actually increase material going to the landfill — although it would decompose far faster.

The City Council is expected to vote tonight on the Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, which would prohibit businesses from providing single-use plastic bags to customers at the point of sale and also severely restrict the use of plastic straws and foam carryout food containers.

Four of nine councilors — Isaac Benton, Cynthia Borrego, Pat Davis and Diane Gibson — introduced the legislation as co-sponsors in January.

The proposal has elicited a divided response; more than 30 members of the public attended a February Council meeting to weigh in, and there was no consensus. Supporters argued it’s an important step to protect the environment, while opponents — predominantly from the business community — have complained about the burden and expense of switching to the allowable bag, straw and to-go container alternatives.

The analysis addressed both the environmental and financial concerns.

“Choosing which material is best for the environment depends on the type of environmental impacts that take priority,” the analysis says. “Plastic production and disposal overall results in less greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water and fertilizer inputs than the paper, aluminum, cotton or glass alternatives. However, improperly disposed plastic is a significant polluter of the environment, including wildlife, when not managed properly.”

The report said additional study is needed to determine the effects on Albuquerque’s specific ecosystem.

As for the financial impact, the analysis said the costs for a business to comply would likely vary depending on several factors.

But the authors reviewed an online restaurant supplier’s prices and found that swapping single-use plastics with options that the ordinance would allow mean businesses could pay:

  •  2-5 cents more for each biodegradable film or paper bag
  •  2-5 cents more for each compostable paper or hay straw
  •  5-10 cents more per unit for biodegradable and foil to-go food containers
  •  12 cents more per unit for fiber clamshell to-go containers

Since the ordinance allows businesses to charge customers up to 10 cents per alternative bag distributed, the average family of four could pay up to $146 a year if businesses enact the maximum fee, the analysis said. However, customers can purchase their own reusable bags instead, which the analysis said cost about $1 each.

An extra 3,109 tons of paper bags would likely end up in the landfill should the ban take effect, according to estimates from the city’s Solid Waste Department.

“It must be noted that paper trash decomposes at a much faster rate than plastics, within one month, and produces less contaminates,” the report said. “Paper bags are also recycled at a higher rate than plastic overall, or 60%.”

Solid Waste also assumed that none of the foam-replacement food containers could be recycled since they will be contaminated with food but it is “difficult to quantify the increase in the weight of trash heading for the landfill.”

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