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BernCo bans plastic bags, foam to-go containers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County on Tuesday followed in the city of Albuquerque’s plastic-banning footsteps — and then inched a little bit further forward.

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Bernalillo County is banning retailers and restaurants from distributing single-use plastic bags, like these, and styrofoam food containers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

The County Commission passed a new ordinance banning retailers and restaurants in the unincorporated areas of the County from distributing single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam to-go food containers at the point of sale.

The commission voted 3-1 with Lonnie Talbert in opposition and Steven Michael Quezada absent due to an out-of-town job. It followed a brief public hearing during which one opponent cautioned the board not to get caught up in “emotional hype” and supporters pressing for action.

“This is a movement. Don’t be left behind,” said 8-year-old Athena Hanna, who spoke in favor of the bill with her three siblings, ages 5 to 11.

The county ordinance follows a similar — but narrower — ban passed by the Albuquerque City Council in April. The city ordinance prohibits some businesses from distributing plastic bags, but carved out an exception for restaurants. The City Council backed off a provision that would have also banned foam to-go containers following outcry from some restaurateurs who complained it would raise their costs and make packaging chile-covered foods more difficult.

Daniel Trujillo of the New Mexico Restaurant Association urged the commission to follow the city’s lead and also exempt restaurants, saying that trading foam containers for recyclable alternatives does not “magically” mean a cleaner community.

“What we have done is replace one form of litter with a second, more expensive form,” he said.

Talbert on Tuesday attempted to grant restaurants an exemption, but his motions failed when no other commissioners would second them.

Prior to voting for the legislation, Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said she researched the types of containers that restaurants would still be able to use under the ban, citing the aluminum pans with cardboard tops that she has in the past received with takeout orders.

“That did the job. It kept things OK,” she said. “I looked up those — the cost is nominal in terms of the difference.”

The county ordinance allows businesses to charge up to 5 cents for every reusable or recyclable bag or container it provides a customer at checkout.

It goes into effect Jan. 1 but will allow businesses that have an existing supply of banned bags and containers the ability to run through the inventory but prohibits them from continuing to purchase them after the law takes effect.

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