Santa Fe bans the bag


By Jessie Emerson, Zero Waste coordinator

Congratulations Santa Fe! It now joins the ranks of enlightened cities Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Austin in
banning single-use plastic bags.

This success story began in 2008, when City Councilor Chris Calvert introduced a resolution to tax plastic bags. It only called for a “fair and equitable program including, but not limited to, an educational program to reduce or eliminate both paper and plastic disposable bag use.”

Nothing much happened then, but seeds were planted.

Fast-forward to 2012. Youth from Wood Gormley Elementary, the GoGreen Club and Earth Care came forward and asked the City Council to reconsider a plastic-bag ban. Mayor David Coss and councilors Rebecca Wurzburger and Chris Rivera stepped up and were joined by the city’s Environmental Services Division, Solid Waste Management and members of the city Business and Quality of Life Committee, and a task force was born. Once again, youth came forward and petitioned the Council to ban plastic bags.

I believe it was the youth who inspired, nurtured and tended the seedlings of their future. These kids know that about
380 billion plastic bags are used in the United States every year. That is more than 1,200 bags per person per year.

Randall Kippenbrock, Solid Waste executive director, said, “Plastic bags cannot be recycled at the recycling center because they clog and damage the automated sorting machine.”

He doesn’t have to worry: Only 1-2 percent are ever recycled anyway. The rest are “blowing in the wind” or, if incinerated with organic material, produce dioxin, one of the most toxic compounds on our planet.

The Sierra Club Northern New Mexico Group supported the ordinance, and we sent an action alert to Santa Feans, and nearly 300 of you responded, telling your councilors you wanted to clean up Santa Fe.

Members were invited to a “Night at the Movies” to watch “Bag It,” a docu-story about plastic bags and their effect on our environment and bodies. We also encouraged members to speak at public hearings on the ordinance.

In the “My View” op-ed I wrote for The New Mexican, I reminded everyone that plastic does not biodegrade, it just gets smaller and smaller, and can get into our bodies through soil, air and water.

Finally the big night arrived. City Council debated. Santa Feans overwhelmingly supported the ordinance, with only one person speaking in dissent. Outside the building, students chanted and waved signs supporting the ordinance.

Inside, Wood Gormley students spoke clearly and concisely, showing that they had done their homework on plastic bags. Sustainable Santa Fe was there, as were many Sierra Club Northern New Mexico Group and Zero Waste members.

Cheers and applause filled the chambers when the ordinance was passed. Ron Truijillo was the lone dissenting vote. His concerns were that all plastic bags be banned, not just singleuse plastic bags. Councilor Chris Rivera addressed the issue this way: “We probably should be banning all bags, but I think this is a good start.”

It is a good start, and there will be plenty of time for public education. You can help our Zero Waste team pursue more victories in a variety of ways, from attending City/County meetings to putting out recycling bins, working with youth groups, and tabling at events. To join the team, please contact me at, 505-470-1363.