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Editorial: Local plastic-bag reprieve

While it’s unfortunate it took a pandemic, recent decisions by the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County to temporarily lift bans on single-use plastic bags are welcome news for holed up shoppers frustrated by flimsy paper sacks and potentially bacteria- and germ-infested reusable bags.

Mayor Tim Keller announced on March 26 the city was temporarily lifting its ban on single-use plastic bags for 30 days to make life “easier” for shoppers and retailers during the coronavirus pandemic. The mayor said grocers were struggling to buy enough paper bags and wanted to streamline the checkout process where the virus can “piggyback” between objects and hands.

Bernalillo County officials followed suit and on Tuesday announced suspension of their ban on single-use plastic bags for 60 days. Both bans were implemented Jan. 1 and have been met with disapproval expressed by many Journal readers.

Keller stressed the city was not lifting its ban due to health concerns, although many local shoppers have questioned the prudence of other shoppers showing up with reusable bags that may have been schlepped from place to place without ever coming into contact with a washing machine or disinfecting wipe. Paul Gessing of The Rio Grande Foundation penned an op-ed published in the Journal on March 18 citing a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Infections Disease that documented a reusable grocery bag was the point source in an actual virus outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. Target, Smith’s and Trader Joe’s are among grocers that have announced their cashiers have stopped handling reusable bags and shoppers who bring them have to bag their own items at checkout.

In this time of a public health emergency, and for whatever reasons, Albuquerque and Bernalillo County have rightly put public safety above negligible environmental results. In 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found plastic bags made up less than 1% of overall waste. Moreover, plastic bags are 100% recyclable and frequently re-used, reducing the use of larger plastic bags.

Given the documented public health risks of reusable bags and the additional costs to businesses and consumers, the city and county should revisit their bans after the pandemic wanes.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.