Five years later, Santa Fe still adjusting to bag ban

Miranda Sanchez, a local Santa Fe shopper, carts her groceries toward the checkout counter at her favorite Walmart for the second time this month.

“I know that plastic has been gone for a while, but even after all this time I am still surprised,” Sanchez said about the disappearance of plastic bags.

A bag ban introduced in 2014, eliminated the use of plastic bags in stores across the city of Santa Fe, making shoppers like Sanchez change their shopping habits. Since then, countless shoppers have adapted to the new way of bagging their groceries with either a paper or cloth reusable bag, if they are wanting to leave the store a little more organized.

Many retailers in Santa Fe, including Walmart were encouraged by the bag ban to eliminate all plastic bags, replacing them with paper.

“I remember when we made the change to paper, I didn’t like it then and I still don’t really like it now,” Sanchez said. “I used plastic bags for a lot of other things and I kind of wish they were still available.”

Sanchez said she opts for paper. She looks through her items in an effort to guess how many paper bags she will need at checkout. After scanning through her items, she stacks them to the small space on the right, awaiting the question, “How many bags do you need?”

She guesses seven bags will do the trick, which will cost her 70 cents. “I don’t think that ten cents is a big deal but I don’t understand why it is necessary,” Sanchez said. After she makes her decision, a Walmart attendant comes over and places seven bags on the checkout counter for her to pack her groceries in.

Santa Fe proposed the bag ordinance five years ago in hopes that shoppers will begin using reusable bags. However, many citizens, like Sanchez, have simply traded plastic for paper, which was not the intended outcome.

The ban signed by previous Mayor, Javier Gonzales, was started with the desire to protect the environment, while also reducing waste, litter, and pollution in order to improve the public’s health and welfare.

Along with the ban of plastic bags, an environmental service fee of 10 cents was added to the purchase of paper bags.

“One out of ten cents is retained by the retailer for administrative costs and the remainder is remitted to the city on a monthly or quarterly basis,” said Shirlene Sitton, the director of  the Environmental Services Division.“The funds are to be used for environmental education and outreach purposes.”

The mandatory fee is a key component of the plastic bag ban, it is meant to serve as an incentive for shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and to compensate businesses for the higher cost of paper bags. Expensive advertising campaigns along with giving away thousands of free reusable cloth bags to the community in 2014.

Single-use plastic bags end up in landfills, on roadsides, in lakes and streams, where they have been a hazard to wildlife. The Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency supports the bag ban and agrees that it has made a more sustainable, environmentally friendly community.

“There are other ways that we can save the environment, bags are not the only answer,” Miranda Sanchez said hinting that she has not seen much change come from this bag ban.

But retailers across Santa Fe have noticed that after five years there has been a significant change in the number of people who use reusable bags.

This year, Albuquerque City Council is now considering a plastic ban similar to the Santa Fe law.

You can follow Hayley Estrada and Steven DeAnda on Twitter @Est3Heyley and @stevendeanda15.