Can Burque be like Vanuatu?
While February brought urban snow thrills to town, that all seemed to melt away in the heat of moment, as the excitement of the idea of banning single-use plastic bags came to the fore. Several dozen citizens turned out to the Feb. 20 City Council meeting to voice opinions about a ban on single-use plastics such as bags, cutlery, cups and to-go containers.
Toss that straw and it could add to the at least 8 million pieces of plastic added daily to the global ocean to make up the estimated 269,000 tons of mini, micro, small and large clumps of plastics in our oceans. So bad is it that the United Nations has declared a war on marine litter saying it wreaks havoc and is causing death on our precious marine life and pollutes our food chain.
In response, last summer, the South Pacific paradise nation of Vanuatu banned single use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam food containers, with hefty fines of between $175 and $900 per incident. Things went so well that now the Vanuatu government is taking the ban a bit further by adding a bunch more plastic items that will take forever to breakdown, such as disposable diapers, cutlery, netting, clam shell cases and other types of plastics.
The paradise island nation says it hopes to set an example for the entire world. Fifty-four countries have some type of plastics ban in place with about 32 countries charging per bag. California and Hawaii have statewide bans on single-use plastic stuff as do American cities Santa Fe, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Others like Washington, D.C., New York, Portland and Boulder have plastic bag fees.
While we are not an ocean community, our fragile desert landscape is filling up with plastics just as fast. At their Feb. 20 meeting Albuquerque City Councilors balked at passing Albuquerque’s Clean and Green Retail Ordinance. It was deferred for 60 days pending an economic analysis. So there is still time to let the Council know what you want them to do.
The proposed measure would ban retailers and restaurants from using single-use plastic bags and non-recyclable carryout containers. Turtle-choking single-use straws would be limited as well.
The ordinance says that according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States generates 4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks, wraps, straws and polystyrene containers with only 13 percent of that recycled. A number of large retail companies such as Kroger, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts have said they plan to end the use of single polystyrene cups, containers and straws.
US Rep. Deb Haaland stopped in to the meeting and gave her support for the pro-Earth measure. She said she was happy to be among all the young people speaking out. “I want to urge every single person in the room to think about the environment and the legacy we are leaving to the children who are sitting behind me,” Haaland said. “You have the support from me if all of you want to be bold and make that stand.”
More than a couple dozen young people showed up to let the Council know they not only supported banning single-use plastic—they pretty much demanded it. One of the many young members of the Mountain Mahogany Community School’s Global Warming Express after school club said their future “right now looks like burned trees and plastic waste everywhere.”
As expected, the local Chamber of Commerce folks and a couple of businesses showed up to let the Council know the change would be expensive for them.
Dan Garcia, from Garcia’s Kitchen said they want to be environmentally friendly. But he stressed that the change would cost his family’s New Mexican food dynasty about $250,000 a year. He also said he did not think paper containers or bags work well with transporting liquid red or green chile. That’s quite a conundrum for us New Mexicans; what should be conveniently accessible, a veritable luxury food item or this planet’s survival?
Paul Gessing from the Rio Grande Foundation said his organization was against the ban, saying it would negatively impact small businesses. He said plastics might be more environmentally friendly as it takes less water to make plastic than paper. He opined about the multi-uses of plastic bags and wished the Council good luck picking up steaming hot dog poop with a paper bag.
But several speakers said they would pay extra for, and would choose, to go to a restaurant that uses environmentally safe products. One elementary school age citizen named Suki spoke about the idea that Albuquerque businesses were too poor to not use plastics, telling gathered citizens and leaders, “Maybe you are worried that Albuquerque can’t afford to ban single-use plastic, here are some places, including some very poor countries that have already passed laws restricting single use plastic … Cambodia, India, Panama, Somalia, South Africa, Uganda, Bangladesh, Puerto Rico.”
Because of the wide ranging and incredibly important nature of the civic discussion on banning one-use plastic items in Albuquerque, Councilors postponed many items from both of February’s meetings, including changes to the Police Oversight Ordinance and changes to the Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs.
Some of the items approved in February include the appointments of Leticia Bernal to the Central Avenue Business Advisory Board; Anthony B. Gallegos, Marie L. Lobo and Fred J. DeGuio to the Airport Advisory Board; Lynn L. Anker and Meggin Lorino to the Area Agency on Aging/Older Americans Act Advisory Council; Brandon M. Rodriguez and Jennifer N. Swartz to the Veterans and Military Affairs Advisory Board. The reappointment of Chantal M. Galloway and Valerie St. John to the Police Oversight Board and the appointments of Lamont Davis, Christopher Sedillo and Tara Armijo-Prewitt to that same board were also enacted.