Food For Thought: It’s Time To Let Go Of Bags

Plastic Bag Ban Is Step In Right Direction For City

Dan Pennington
7 min read
ItÕs Time To Let Go of Bags
Like a white flag waving, it’s time to surrender our bags. (Dan Pennington)
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It happened to me. I went to the store Jan. 4 and forgot about the bag ban. Yes, 2020 ushered in a new era of environmentally friendly policies, with this one taking immediate effect Jan. 1. I stood in Ghetto Smith’s and looked around. The people there were frantic. I saw a woman start hoarding paper bags, a wild look in her eyes as she scanned the horizon for more. Her eyes found nothing but chaos. Another person watched as their groceries literally melted away in their hands, just becoming some amorphous blob on the floor, sending them back on a quest for more Honey Nut Cheerios. A child was holding a plastic bag, and a crowd swarmed them, hands grasping inwards to grab ahold of this precious, dwindling resource. This was the future liberals wanted, and they got it.

None of this actually happened but judging by the reactions of local residents in online comment sections, it would appear that it was the inevitable outcome, and that the world has gone crazy and they’re the only ones who see it. I have a recommendation for those people. My advice is “deal with it.” The word that comes up the most in these comments is “inconvenienced,” a word printed on a banner that is waved loud and proud above them as they pick this hill to die on. They don’t know what they’ll do with trash in their bathroom anymore, they are now completely lost about how to deal with cat litter, how will they construct their horrible “Plastic-Man” costume using only found goods or God forbid, they have to have their own bags when they go to the store like plebeians. These complaints send me up a wall, because they mean nothing in the grand scheme of the world. They’re all so simple, so unobstrusive, it feels like it’s more effort to complain than to solve. This is what I want to focus on. Adaptability.

“Inconvenienced” is a strange word. It’s not that it is necessarily a real obstacle, it just adds minor problems to the ultimate solution the seeker is seeking. I’m sure as you read those above complaints, your mind did what mine does when it hears a complaint; it creates a solution. These are not real problems. These barely qualify as trouble. There are compostable bags for cat litter you can buy and use if you don’t want to dump it straight into a trashbag that is already being used. 200 for $20. Your bathroom trash is the same way, you can purchase your own bags, environmentally friendly and far more useful. The goal here isn’t a total ban on plastic, though what a world this would be if we could make that happen. The goal here is reduction. Many don’t remember, but there was a time in New Mexico history when people said the state bird was a plastic bag, because wherever you went, you would be sure to see one lazily drifting through the sky, hanging in a tree and flapping its metaphorical wings noisily above the streets. It was a problem then, and it’s a problem now. Currently, a set of photos is making its way around social media of the drainage system to the Rio Grande, and it’s packed shut with plastic bags. We brag about the beautiful scenery out here, yet somehow want to allow things like this to continue. We have to strive for higher standards, even at the absurdly high cost of minor inconvenience.

Littering has consistently been a problem, with the streets being unkept if not for the valiant efforts of do-gooders and workers hired by the city to patrol the main roads and collect what they can find. But it all feeds back to the main solution, one of reduction. Why spend all this time going out and cleaning when not having to clean at all is both cheaper and easier? We’re removing a problem that is both timely and costly in exchange for extra seconds of our time in the store. More so, the ban has been instituted other places to great results, where people have adjusted, and life moved on. Sierra Sweet, a local student, told me “I lived in California for three years and they enacted a bag ban there right around the time I moved (to the Sacramento area). People were pissy and freaked out there, too. Personally, I don’t see much of an issue with the ban in theory—reducing plastic seems good all around. When we moved back to NM, we had to go grocery shopping right away and we went to Walmart to keep it cheap. Our cashier proceeded to bag about 50 items each in an individual bag, all double bagged. We were just watching this in horror.”

So then what causes this plastic-induced anger? “I think Albuquerque is a city that is very resistant to change—this is obvious when I hear people saying things like ‘Who puts a bus lane in the middle of the street?!’ in regard to ART. But I’m sick of seeing ugly plastic bags wrapped around our cacti, so I’ll be embracing the bag ban,” Sweet told me. Which feels like the crux of the issue—of a lot of our issues, actually. We’re a city resistant to change. For some things, I agree, keep them the way they are. Historic sites, cultural traditions and our amazing food scene are things I would hate to see change. But values, societal progress, compassion for those less fortunate, growth and the removal of plastic bags from our landscape, those are things that need to move forward with the times. This is a call for Albuquerque to be better, not that we aren’t, but we can continue to grow. It’s easy to acknowledge that change is difficult, but we need to move with it, not against it. We’re in a constant state of change, and things cannot ever truly stay the same. As time moves forward, so must we. We must be adaptable.

There’s no real obstacle at the end of the day. Reusable bags are everywhere, with most places selling them so cheap it’s almost laughable to consider it a consequence. Walmart is currently selling them at 10 cents each, though Target is just giving them away. Even the city stepped up, creating a ton of bags to give away over the coming weeks to help ease the transitional pain of losing our precious thin plastic ones. As time goes on, more and more places will be launching their own lines of bags, a way to show support for a business you love while also finding use of the product offered. There are nearly limitless ways to help be a part of the solution rather than the problem, and earnestly, the complaining is a little tired at this point.

I end on an anecdote. From the years I spent working with a homeless shelter, you found that there were needs that weren’t in the usual list of asks. Speaking with John Benton, Shelter Director for Hopeworks, he brought up the use of plastic bags by clients. For many experiencing homelessness, they carry everything they own on them at all times. One of the many problems they face was keeping these things, typically essentials, safe and protected. The easiest way was with a plastic bag. It had handles, it was lightweight and best of all, waterproof. Even before the ban, keeping bags available was always a struggle, though now, it may be next to impossible. For them, protecting their belongings, things like birth certificates and legal documents that help them reintegrate back into a normal life, will become more difficult than before. And yet, how many do you see speaking out against being “inconvenienced”?
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