City Council repeals plastic bag prohibition - Albuquerque Journal

City Council repeals plastic bag prohibition

A weathered plastic bag hangs on a fence near 2nd and Aztec on Monday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Three years after passing Albuquerque’s plastic bag ban, the City Council has thrown it out.

The City Council voted 6-3 late Monday to repeal the Clean & Green Retail Ordinance, which barred grocers and other stores from providing single-use plastic bags at checkout.

The vote came over vocal opposition from members of the public who spoke during the meeting and provided dozens of written comments. Many called it a step backward and questioned why the Council was making a decision before the city completed its ongoing study into the ban’s impact – or why leaders were reconsidering it at all given the city’s other pressing concerns like crime and homelessness.

But Councilor Brook Bassan, who sponsored the repeal bill, said Albuquerque residents should be able to use plastic bags if they want.

“People should have the choice of what they want to do; people should have the option to decide what’s best for them,” she said.

Councilors Renee Grout, Dan Lewis, Trudy Jones, Klarissa Peña and Louie Sanchez voted with Bassan to repeal.

Isaac Benton and Pat Davis – who co-sponsored the original ban – joined Council newcomer Tammy Fiebelkorn to vote against the repeal.

Fiebelkorn apologized to the bag ban’s supporters, particularly the young people who helped push it through three years ago.

“This is not the way government is supposed to work; you worked, you did the work, you put in the excessive amount of time to get this passed, and it should not keep coming back up over and over and over again,” she said.

The Council passed the ban in 2019. It took effect in January 2020, but Mayor Tim Keller quickly shelved it due to COVID-19. He suspended enforcement in March 2020, a pause that lasted about 16 months.

The ban returned Aug. 1, 2021 and was strengthened shortly thereafter when the city closed a loophole that had enabled retailers to distribute heavier plastic bags at checkout.

Only two councilors who originally voted for the ban – co-sponsors Isaac Benton and Pat Davis – remain on the Council today, and the legislative body now leans more conservative overall.

Keller has expressed support for the ban, tweeting on Saturday that the “Clean & Green ordinance is one step to reducing plastic waste and litter in our city. City Council commissioned an impact study when they originally passed it – let’s see the results before Council considers a repeal of this popular policy.”

The mayor has veto authority; however, the Council can override his vetoes with six votes.

The original ordinance required the city to convene a multi-departmental committee to study the impacts of the ban after the first two years – specifically how many bags the ordinance diverted from the city’s garbage stream – and report the findings by June 30, 2022.

Solid Waste Director Matthew Whelan told the Council Monday the study was underway.

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