New Mexico considers statewide plastic bag ban

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Climate advocates reminded New Mexico lawmakers Thursday that the environment is also dependent on state laws and regulations.

There are dozens of bills tackling fuel emissions, water conservation and deforestation during this legislative session at the Roundhouse. There’s also a new, statewide attempt to get rid of plastic grocery bags.

Doña Ana County state Sen. Jeff Steinborn says plastic pollution is a much bigger problem than meets the eye, and believes a statewide ban is the best place to start battling it.

His proposal would prohibit grocery stores and other retailers from handing out plastic bags at checkouts. There is a long list of exceptions for certain food products, dry cleaning, medical supplies, and other instances where plastic is the only viable option.

However, even with those in place, Steinborn says a statewide plastic bag ban would eliminate 500 million plastic bags from New Mexico’s environment.

“The myth that we can recycle them is turning out to be just that a myth,” Steinborn said. “We’re finding plastics being reduced to what they’re calling microplastics in the most pristine places on the environment, that you would never think you’d find plastics at all.”

Plastic bag bans are not new to the state. Santa Fe and Las Cruces already have their own restrictions in place.

Albuquerque enacted its own plastic bag ban in 2020, but it was suspended during the pandemic and city councilors eventually repealed it a few months later.

Steinborn said they took all of that into consideration with the legislation.

“We really tried to pull the best language from all of these bills to not only define, you know, what is plastic, what is a good reusable bag that’s environmentally friendly,” Steinborn said. “One thing we wanted to watch out for here was not kind of a bait and switch where we you know, did something that maybe felt good and then replaced it with something that was also environmentally dubious.”

Albuquerque dealt with that bait-and-switch problem early on.

Steinborn said his Senate bill was pulled from Thursday’s committee meeting, and that was on purpose. He said an identical bill in the House is gaining momentum, and it’s looking more likely that one will cross the finish line.

Track House Bill 432 during the legislative session.