September 2014

Sustainable Santa Fe Update

Santa Fe’s Plastic Bag Ban

Ashley Zappe

Since the Reusable Bag Ordinance (popularly called the “Bag Ban”) was implemented last February, Santa Fe businesses have no longer offered free single-use plastic bags at the checkout. The purpose of the ordinance is to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags and promote sustainability through reuse of resources because reuse is more effective than recycling.

To evaluate and improve the ordinance, Sustainable Santa Fe has conducted two surveys of impacts on a sampling of retail establishments. The first survey was conducted in April, the second in June. The information gathered will be used in the ordinance’s reassessment and update scheduled for later this year. In June, four months after the ordinance took effect, 56 percent of surveyed businesses report that there has been no financial impact whatsoever, 23 percent indicate some significant financial impacts, and the rest indicate only minimal and transitory financial impacts. All businesses report that there have not been significant customer complaints. Overall, neither businesses nor customers have been severely negatively impacted by the bag ordinance.

Be that as it may, we are not much closer to the goal of promoting reusable bags over disposable ones. In the first survey, a quarter of the businesses reported that none of their customers bring their own bags, and nearly the rest reported that fewer than 1 percent of customers bring bags. However, by June, about a third of businesses reported that more than 3 percent are bringing their own bags. A few businesses have even observed over 25 percent of customers bringing bags, up to as much as 65 percent. While this shows some improvement, it seems many customers have simply exchanged using single-use plastic bags for single-use paper bags.

The originally proposed reusable bag ordinance suggested a 10-cent charge for single-use paper bags to deter paper-bag use as well. While the city government does not have authority to require that businesses charge for bags, other options to discourage the use of disposable bags and increase reusable bag use are being considered in the reassessment of the ordinance. Ten percent of surveyed businesses specifically requested a mandatory paper-bag fee.

If you would like to be involved with this initiative or other Sustainable Santa Fe Commission actions, please attend a commission meeting. The commission meets on the third Tuesday of every month from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Council Conference Room in City Hall. Interested community members should contact Commission Staff Katherine Mortimer at More information can be found at

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