Progress on the Los Alamos Ban the Bag campaign

By Jody Benson, Pajarito Group newsletter editor, 06/30/14

How are we progressing with the Bag Ban?

Los Alamos County Public Works Director Philo Shelton led the county effort to contract a new recycler, Friedman Recycling, a state-of-the-art facility in Albuquerque that recycles items previously prohibited such as #1 through #7 plastic containers, rigid plastic toys, and cereal/cracker boxes. The information circular distributed with your utility bill also states that you can Blue-Bin single-use plastic grocery bags. This recycling, however, comes with a caveat: you can recycle the bags, but unless Friedman Recycling has a market for them, the bags head to the Rio Rancho landfill.

The biggest, most profitable recycle market for these bags is for building material, primarily building planks and decking; however, as Mr. Shelton pointed out, in this economic climate with the millions of bags discarded every day far outpacing the demand for construction, most of our Los Alamos bags still blow out of the landfill and whirl through the state until they’re caught on barbed wire or chollas.
Of course, once we have a bag, reuse or recycling is critical, but not getting the bag in the first place is many times more rational. We believe reason will prevail sooner or later, and our goal is to prevail sooner. So how is our Pajarito Group progressing with our attempt to ban the single-use plastic bag in Los Alamos?

We received our new bags: reinforced red polypro with our Fran Stovall’s BYOB Roadrunner Logo. In June we begin the tabling effort in earnest (Farmer’s Market, Gordon’s Concerts, Coop Events, etc.) to which we are bringing these bags along with our brochures and flyers. The bags are gratis; however, we’re suggesting a $3 donation. The $3 will just about cover the cost per bag. For kids we have a button-making machine for them to make their own Ban the Bag button. This activity will hold both kids and parents at our table long enough for us to explain our need for a plastic-bag-free Los Alamos.

We have contacted a few merchants. First, the good news— among Smiths stores in New Mexico, Los Alamos customers already have the highest rate of reuseable bags. Merchant concerns, however, include: (1) Do the community and other stores support the ban? (2) Will all stores, or only Smiths, be forced to ban the single-use bag? (4) What are bag rules for restaurants? (5) Exactly which bags are banned? All? (6) Will shoppers simply go to Walmart rather than forego bags at local merchants?

Many Santa Fe shopkeepers are dissatisfied with their bag ban because, with paper available, shoppers haven’t been conditioned to remember to bring their own bags. This is because the Santa Fe ordinance did not retain its originally stipulated 10-cent fee on paper bags. Paper at 8-10 cents a bag is much more expensive than 2-3 cents per plastic; therefore, at least one merchant prefers that our ordinance retain the fee imposed on paper.

Our overarching plan is to have prepared the County Council by lining up public opinion to the extent that we can go to the newly elected Council in January to request the ordinance. Our Rio Grande Chapter director, Camilla Feibelman, will help organize that final push. Because this is an election year, we have the opportunity to go to Council candidate events and lobby candidates to support the ban.

And for the final word: at PEEC’s Earth Day on May 24, we unveiled our new button-making machine, and invited kids to make their own ban-the-bag button. As they made their buttons, we adults took the opportunity to ask, “Do you know why we want to ban the bag?” Yes, they all said, because: “They litter all over,” “They get in the ocean and kill the turtles,” “They use up resources,” “My mom always takes bags.” One fourth-grade boy summed it up with, “Yes! Of course I know!” he said, rolling his eyes as if we adults were morons (an obvious assumption, given the state of the Earth that we have handed to him). “Using plastic bags is just plain stupid!”

Volunteer to Ban the Bag
This is your personal invitation to become a future-shaper. We need your talents at multiple levels and time commitments. For a minimum of 10 minutes you can ask every Council candidate lobbying for your vote: “Do you favor a ban on the single-use plastic shopping bag in Los Alamos?” For a couple of hours, you could table at a Farmers’ Market or Gordon’s Concert—you might love it enough to commit for several weeks or all summer. For a strenuous dedication, you can join our multiple planning meetings over the next several months, or perhaps in January, you can testify in front of the Council.

If you’re extroverted, sign up for a tabling event. If you’re introverted, write a letter (maybe 10) to the L.A. Daily, the Monitor, or to Council members. If you need language, we have it for you.

Please watch your emails for the schedule, and contact Mark Jones at 662-9442 or to volunteer. If you would like to lead an event, we will support you. We need you. Each of you. Everyone is necessary for the success of this effort.