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Discussion on plastic bag ban changes delayed

SANTA FE, N.M. — Consideration of proposed changes to an ordinance that will ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and other shops were delayed Tuesday due to lack of a quorum at the city Finance Committee meeting.

Up for consideration was the elimination of a 10-cent fee that stores would be required to charge for paper grocery bags. Another amendment would create a 30-day implementation period after the ordinance goes into effect on Feb. 27.

City Councilor Patti Bushee said last week that she wanted to delay implementation for three months to allow more discussion on the issue. Since then, after speaking with members of the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, she has reconsidered that plan.

“I was just trying to give it a little more time to be more thoughtful about it so we don’t have any unintended consequences,” she said. “I think now I’d just like to stick with the original proposal and go with one hearing and move on to review.”

The proposed changes to the ordinance came after Interim City Attorney Kelley Brennan raised concerns that charging a fee for paper bags could constitute an illegal tax.

Similar ordinances that require fees have already been subjected to court challenges in California and Colorado.

Santa Fe’s ordinance applies to grocery stores and retail shops that provide plastic or paper bags to customers. Restaurants, businesses that sell takeout food and nonprofit organizations are exempt.

Paul Bancroft-Turner, a spokesman for Albertsons grocery stores’ Southwest division, said the company was prepared to ship materials informing customers of the new ordinance to its three stores in Santa Fe last week, but decided not to do so after hearing about the proposed amendments. He said the materials included signs that would be posted at the register and the front of the store, as well as notices that would be placed inside bags.

Bancroft-Turner said the company is taking no position on the ordinance.

“We want whatever our customers want,” he said. “If our customers don’t want it, we don’t want it. If our customers are for it, we’re for it.”

The New Mexico Grocers Association, however, has said it is against the plastic bag ban.

Bancroft-Turner said Albertsons doesn’t have any stores in the region that are subjected to a plastic bag ordinance like the one in Santa Fe. Its Southwest division includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and El Paso. He noted that the city of Durango, Colo., adopted an ordinance that would impose a 10-cent charge for disposable bags last year, but voters repealed it in November before it went into effect.

Bancroft-Turner said such an ordinance would have a financial impact on the company because plastic bags are cheaper to produce and cost less to ship.

It would take seven truckloads to transport the same number of paper bags that could be carried in one truckload of plastic bags, he said.

Asked if Santa Fe shoppers could expect to see higher prices to cover the added costs for paper bags and shipping, he said, “We do not expect or foresee increases in costs because of that.”

The single-use bag ordinance was passed by the Santa Fe City Council in August and, even at that time, wasn’t set to go into effect until Feb. 27.

The stated purpose of the ordinance is to conserve resources, reduce waste, litter and pollution, and protect the public health and welfare.

The ordinance mentions that the city recognizes that plastic carry-out bags do not biodegrade and remain in the environment for hundreds of years. When they do break down, the toxic plastic bits contaminate soil and water and enter the food web when inadvertently swallowed by animals.

The ordinance calls for the Environmental Services Division to conduct a survey of affected retail establishments in an effort to measure the financial impact, with the results given to the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission.

The commission is then required to produce a report within 12 months of the effective date of the bag ban. Besides financial impact to businesses, the report is to analyze the effectiveness of the ordinance compared to other cities that are attempting to reduce the use of single-use carry out bags. Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., are among the cities that have been leading the effort.

A proposed amendment would also require the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission to do a comparative analysis of retailers that charge for paper bags and reusable bags and those who do not.

After wending their way through the committee process, the proposed amendments to the ordinance are expected to go before the City Council on Feb. 26, when a public hearing would be held.

To help with implementation of the plastic bag ban, the city purchased 10,000 reusable bags available to city residents at no cost. The bags are available at the mayor’s office, 200 Lincoln Ave., and the city plans to distribute them at city events.

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