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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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After a hiatus of more than a year, Albuquerque’s single-use plastic bag ban will be back in effect beginning Aug. 1. The city put a hold on the Clean and Green Retail Ordinance in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a precaution against the threat that reusable bags would facilitate the spread of the virus. The law banned all single-use plastic bags for retail, prompting some retailers to switch to thicker 2.25 mm bags they say are reusable.

Officials say that the timing of the announcement is to give businesses extra time to prepare for a transition to operating without plastic bags. The ban only affects retailers and related businesses. Restaurants, food trucks, bakeries and delis will be exempt from the ban. Retail businesses may also charge customers to use thicker plastic bags.

The ban on plastic bags is part of an effort by the city to reduce its litter and overall ecological footprint. Because the majority of plastic bags are produced from oil and gas, plastic bags do not leave an ecosystem since they do not break down naturally. In June Mayor Keller used his emergency powers to extend the suspension indefinitely after grocers requested that the ban be suspended to reduce exposure and increase the efficiency of the checkout line during the pandemic. As the state continues on the path to fully reopen, and more and more New Mexicans are vaccinated, the risk of spreading COVID-19 through reusable bags has significantly decreased.  

Many see the ban as a step in the right direction but have also raised concerns that the ban is not enough or has loopholes that do not address the root problem. According to The Albuquerque Journal, a small protest was held in Civic Plaza last Wednesday that called for the immediate implementation of the ban and stricter regulations. The ordinance currently applies only to single-use bags less than 2.25 millimeters thick. Under the current ordinance, a plastic bag that is thicker than 2.25 millimeters is considered reusable, but organizers want to close a “loophole” that allows stores to distribute thicker plastic bags at checkout. 

The continued use of thicker plastic bags, instead of reusable and compostable alternatives, may undermine Albuquerque’s push to reduce plastic waste. City leaders said they worked to address the loophole last year and the concerns that the plastic bag ban may not be enough, but no changes have been made yet. The ordinance was in effect for about 10 weeks before it was suspended last year.

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