Albuquerque to crack down on plastic bag ban

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In just a few weeks, the City of Albuquerque will be cracking down on its plastic bag ban.

"If you just drive around the city, they’re just, they’re everywhere. It’s a consistent source of litter,” said Mike Whelan, director of Albuquerque’s Solid Waste Department.

The department announced new revisions to the Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, hoping to fix a pretty big problem.

"Right away, we noticed that big box stores, as well as other stores, found kind of a loophole where they could use a bag that’s similar to what they were already giving out, and just continue to give out a bag that was still not that good for the environment,” said Whelan.

He’s talking about the thicker bags that several chains have been using. They are 2 1/2 mils thick (a mil is a thousandth of an inch) which are just thick enough to still be allowed.

Starting Dec. 1, the city is raising that limit to 4 mils – hoping to force more people to use reusable bags.

"So we love recycling, and that’s talked about all the time, but our main goal in the upcoming year is to reuse and reduce,” Whelan said.

Recycling experts said completely getting rid of these plastic bags is really the only option. Yes, those bags can be recycled, but it’s not an easy process. But a lot of times, these bags often clog up machines and make it harder to recycle anything.

"So they kind of gunk up the machinery, so you have to close things down, clear out those bags and then be able to operate it again. So it actually costs a lot of money when those bags, those tanglers have to get put into the recycling process,” said Sarah Pierpont with the New Mexico Recycling Coalition.

But what about paper bags? Some grocery chains, like Albertson’s, are switching to brown bags to get past the city’s ban. Experts said they are better for the environment but still not a perfect solution.

"It’s still taking natural resources, you know we cut down trees, we make paper, the difference that paper is easily recyclable in Albuquerque’s recycling program. So paper is better than plastic overall, but the gold standard is to use your own reusable bag multiple, multiple times,” Pierpont said.

Walmart said it will follow local regulations but did not explain what that will look like once this new rule goes into effect. KOB 4 did not hear back from Smith’s.

The bottom line – people better start stocking up on some reusable bags. The city said cloth ones or really thick plastic ones are really the best bet, because there may not be other options at the register.

The new rules begin Dec. 1. Food-related businesses and dry cleaners are still allowed to use single-use plastic bags.