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Las Cruces has got a brand-new bag


You’ve heard me say more than once New Mexico has America’s coolest state flag. There is something wonderful about the red Zia symbol against that golden field.

However, I’ve also said more than once, only half-jokingly, New Mexico’s real state flag is a plastic Walmart bag, stuck to a bush, flapping in the wind. That’s a sight we’ve all seen, probably as much as we’ve seen that beautiful Zia flag.

We should be seeing less of that plastic bag flag in Las Cruces starting in January. In theory, anyway.

Jan. 1, 2022, is when the city’s new restrictions begin on single-use plastic bags.

I’ve been paying extra attention to those bags and how they’re used since August, when the Las Cruces City Council unanimously passed the restriction.

Some entities will still be allowed to use them, including food pantries and take-out restaurants. Neither the county, the state nor nearby El Paso has a similar ban, at least not yet, so we’ll still be seeing the bags for some time.

Retailers have the opportunity to provide paper bags to customers and be able to charge us up to a 10-cent fee. I, for one, have always preferred paper bags anyway, at least the good, old-fashioned brown paper grocery bags. Back in high school in Oklahoma, I worked at Albertsons, and got pretty good at packing those bags efficiently. They also worked well as book covers and wrapping packages for mail.

Despite the paper preference, though, I’ve come to find some value in those single-use plastic bags, primarily because, for me anyway, they’re seldom single-use.

In some statistics provided by Lisa LaRocque, the city’s sustainability officer, the typical household uses 1,500 of these bags every year. The average length of use for them is 12 minutes.

I’d be surprised if I use 1,500 of the bags. For my household, it’s probably far less. I also use mine more than 12 minutes.

Growing up, I regularly packed my bologna sandwich in small brown paper lunch bags, but they actually couldn’t hold much more. If you packed a bag of Fritos and an apple, there wouldn’t be room for a can of RC Cola. The modern, single-use plastic bags are great for packing lunches and can hold a lot more, and the handles mean you can carry them even when you’re toting other stuff.

Single-use bags are also great as liners for small trash receptacles around your home or office.

I’ll often use the single-use plastic bags to wrap other items I get from the store, especially things that can leak, such as meat, before I put them into the refrigerator. That’s something a paper bag cannot do.

I know part of the motivation of the new restriction is to get people in the habit of going to the store with their own reusable bags. That’s not a bad intention, but if you’re like me, you’ll forget and leave those bags at home nine times out of 10. Either that or leave them in your other vehicle.

There are some things, however, a reusable bag just can’t do. One of them is pick up your dog’s poop.

How many times have you gone to walk your dog in the park and it turns out the poop bag receptacle is empty?  If you’re walking them in the neighborhood where there is no poop bag receptacle, it’s even worse. Of course, you can buy your own specially designed poop bags at the store, but they can be expensive. The single-use bags (and I highly recommend double-bagging for this purpose) work great to clean up after your dog.

Certainly, I’m outlining first-world issues here, and I’m not advocating rampant use of plastic bags. I understand the motivations behind the new restrictions and the need to reduce the world’s plastic. I hope the restriction reduces some of the visual clutter of Las Cruces, but I also wonder if the plastic-bags’ replacement methods might create a bigger carbon footprint than the bags do. Regardless, we will find a way to adapt without the plastic bags.

I used to think we, as humans, would always adapt and find better ways to do things. Unfortunately, as I look around these days at some of the things we do, and some of the decisions we make, I’m more pessimistic than I used to be.

Richard Coltharp