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Plastics ban needed; new fee is not


I don’t like plastic bags any more than members of the Las Cruces City Council, who recently passed a ban on them starting Jan. 1.

It’s not just their uncanny ability to escape confinement and sail into the nearest tree or bush, where they will flap in the breeze until somebody comes along and dislodges them. The health and ecological damages caused by plastic bags goes beyond just being an eyesore.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, about 730,000 tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were produced in the United States in 2015. Less than 13 percent of that will be recycled. The rest will be dumped in a landfill or, worse, in the ocean.

Plastics stored in a landfill never fully degrade, Instead, they break down into microplastics, which absorb toxins and present health dangers to both humans and wildlife.

We eat, drink and inhale these microplastics every day, without knowing it, according to the Plastics Health Coalition. Many products contain chemical additives associated with hormone-related cancers, infertility and neurodevelopment disorders such as autism.

And so, the Las Cruces City Council was responding to a real and growing threat when it voted to ban single-use plastic bags starting next year, with exemptions for things like drycleaning bags and newspaper wrappers on a rainy day.

I understand what they’re trying to do and why it needs to be done. If they had passed an ordinance that simply banned single-use plastic bags, my column today would be in full support of that decision.

Unfortunately, the ordinance does not stop there. It includes a new fee that will create an unnecessary burden for store owners and an additional cost for shoppers.

The ordinance requires that stores charge customers 10 cents a bag for each paper bag they use. Those who qualify for federal food assistance programs would be exempt from the fee. The stores will then be required to file quarterly resorts with the city on how many bags were given away and how many 10-cent fees were collected.

The city and the store will then split that new fee money evenly, with the store using its share to cover the transition away from plastic bags.

The city will reportedly use its share to educate the public on the need to stop using plastic bags. I’m not sure how much of an education campaign is necessary once the bags are banned.

City Sustainability Officer Lisa LaRocque explained during a recent radio interview that the fee is intended to encourage people to bring reusable cloth bags with them each time they shop. And, maybe a 10 cent reminder will have that effect on some. But the additional burden it will place on retailers would seem to outweigh whatever advantage the new fee will have.

It would be far easier for store owners to comply with the new ban if the city government just got out of the way and let them figure out how best to serve their customers.

Beyond that, by introducing a new fee as part of this process, members of the City Council look like they’re trying to gain a financial benefit from something that needs to be done to protect our health and environment. And, they’re doing it at a time when the city is absolutely awash in federal pandemic relief money, with millions more for the city to follow if the infrastructure bill goes through.

Every new city ordinance doesn’t need to be an opportunity to collect a new fee.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltruebl@gmail.com