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After an extended hiatus, Albuquerque’s plastic bag ban has been revived.
The city said Wednesday that it will resume enforcement of the Clean and Green Ordinance Aug. 1 – about 16 months after Mayor Tim Keller first put it on ice.
The ordinance bans grocery stores and other retailers from distributing single-use plastic bags at the point of sale. It had been in force less than three months when COVID-19 reached New Mexico, prompting Keller to halt enforcement. The mayor said at the time that grocers had requested the suspension and that the move could help make for a more efficient checkout process. The hiatus was supposed to last 30 days, but Keller has used his emergency powers during the pandemic to repeatedly extend it.
In a news release Wednesday, the city said the suspension was meant “to protect front-line employees and customers” but that New Mexico’s public health picture had brightened.
“We took the necessary steps in times of uncertainty to protect folks during the pandemic,” Albuquerque Environmental Health Deputy Director Mark DiMenna said in a statement. “With the strides we are making to return to a full re-opening, it’s important that we get back to sustainable best practices.”
Members of the City Council – which adopted the ban in 2019 – have on multiple recent occasions questioned Keller administration officials about when it would return.
The city’s chief administrative officer, Sarita Nair, told the council last week that the administration was considering an Aug. 1 reinstatement but wanted to give retailers a few months’ warning before it took effect again.
Councilor Diane Gibson, who co-sponsored the Clean and Green ordinance, said Wednesday that she is disappointed by the timeline.
“I think it’s late, but I’m glad they’re (bringing it back),” Gibson said.
The city’s formal announcement came Wednesday morning – just hours before a group of mothers and kids were scheduled to rally on Civic Plaza to urge reinstatement of the ban. Organizers carried on with the rally, saying that in addition to reinstatement, they are pushing to strengthen the ordinance. Specifically, they want to close a “loophole” that allows stores to distribute thicker plastic bags at checkout. The ordinance currently applies only to single-use bags less than 2.25 millimeters thick.
“We’re just going to keep talking about it until they’re able to make some changes,” said Celerah Hewes of the Moms Clean Air Force organization.
Keller said in suspending the bag ban in 2020 that he planned to address that loophole, although a city spokeswoman said Wednesday that no changes have been made.
“The ordinance was only in place for about 10 weeks prior to the public health emergency which did not allow us the time to evaluate its impact or effectiveness. We look forward to reevaluating its impact as it is reinstated,” spokeswoman Emily Moore said in an email.
Gibson said she may sponsor an ordinance amendment at the City Council.
“I emphatically disagree with the heavier plastic option, and I’m looking at possibility of amending that,” Gibson said.