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One city councilor is ready to can Albuquerque’s plastic bag ban.
Councilor Brook Bassan is proposing the city repeal the Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, which prohibits stores from distributing single-use plastic bags at checkout.
Bassan said she believes the ban’s intentions were good but that the law has had unintended consequences. Her legislation said supply chain issues have made it harder for some businesses to get compliant bags, and that allowable alternatives like paper and reusable bags “place additional financial burdens on businesses and still take a substantial toll on the environment.”
She said constituents contact her often with complaints – shoppers and businesses alike.
“This is something I hear so much from people about,” she said. “I have heard in the past couple of years that this is really more problematic in their life than it was originally intended to be.”
While her legislation repeals the ban, it commits the council “to prioritizing alternative approaches to addressing plastic bag waste and litter” and to explore expanding the city’s recycling program to include plastic bags. The city does not currently recycle plastic bags.
Councilor Pat Davis – who co-sponsored the Clean and Green Retail Ordinance – said the ban has been a welcome change and questioned the need to debate it again.
“It’s been nice to see customers and businesses adapting to do something together to keep our city cleaner and be more responsible,” he said in a statement. “It would be much more productive to have councilors working together to solve our big issues we have today than wasting months rehashing already settled policies from the past.”
Passed in 2019, the ordinance took effect Jan. 1, 2020, though it was quickly shelved.
Mayor Tim Keller – who supported the ban – suspended enforcement in March 2020 due to the pandemic. He cited requests from grocers and said that halting the ban could make checkout more efficient.
That hiatus lasted 16 months.
His administration reinstated the ban effective Aug. 1, 2021, and subsequently strengthened it, closing a loophole that had enabled some retailers to give customers extra-thick plastic bags at checkout.
Violations can result in civil fines of up to $250 (for the second or subsequent offense), but a spokeswoman said the city has not issued any warnings or fines to date.
“There have been informal discussions between inspectors and facilities that have not resulted in enforcement,” city spokeswoman Maia Rodriguez said.
Keller’s office is not publicly taking a position on Bassan’s bill yet.
“We’ll review the legislation and its potential impacts,” mayoral spokeswoman Ava Montoya said in a statement. “Creating a sustainable, environmentally equitable future for Albuquerque remains a priority for our administration.”