The Taos town council moved forward their proposal Tuesday (Sept. 7) of a town-wide ban on single-use plastics. The ordinance has been in the works since just before the pandemic, when the council enacted the ban, but then quickly put it on hold due to the public health emergency.
During discussion at the meeting Tuesday evening, Town Manager Rick Bellis presented the original ordinance passed in March of last year, which aims to help reduce the amount of plastic waste produced by the town by banning the use of single-use plastics, like bags, cups, straws, stirrers and food containers.
The ordinance states the specific goal is "to protect the Town's unique natural beauty and irreplaceable natural resources, to minimize the impact and cost of litter and solid waste disposal from single-use products to the public, and to preserve the public health and safety through the prohibition of single-use carryout [products].
"We need to start addressing the problem," said Councilman Nathaniel Evans.
With the Taos Recycling Center closing its doors this Friday (Sept. 10), local governments have been trying to come up with plans and initiatives to help address the problem in a variety of ways. Evans said the single-use plastic ban is a good way to start to combat the problem, which he admits is much bigger than Taos or any other small town.
There was some discussion about whether or not to wait to enact the ban until other Enchanted Circle governments agreed to come on board, but several council members said it was time to stop waiting for the agreement of other municipalities and time to start setting a regional example.
Councilmember Fritz Hahn expressed this concern about the timing of the ordinance, and said he would need time to organize with the rest of the Intergovernmental Council (IGC). "I need that time to meet with collaborative members, get their buy-in and get their wheels flowing." Hahn said he would bring up the issue at the next IGC meeting in October and suggested a start date of Jan. 1.
"I don't believe even with a Jan. 1 date, those organizations will get the willpower to do it," countered Evans. "My push is to lead by example then also encourage them to jump onboard."
Councilmember Darien Fernandez agreed with Evans. "We have discussed and debated this issue for several years and given plenty of notice. Only the pandemic delayed the rollout of this. To wait much longer when we already have the ordinance passed doesn't… make a lot of sense. I'd love for everyone to move quickly on this."
Pascual Maestas, another councilmember, also agreed with Evans and Fernandez, saying they should implement the ban as soon as possible, but worried about potential supply chain disruptions for companies that will be forced to quickly switch from plastic to reusable materials.
"I would be in favor of [implementing the ban] Nov. 1 if we can get some confirmation from the businesses that they can make that date," he said. Regardless, he added, "we shouldn't wait for the county or the rest of the Enchanted Circle to get on board."
Bellis acknowledged there could be a supply chain issue, but said that a start date of Nov. 1 should be ample notice for companies to make the necessary changes. "Everybody's had plenty of time to figure it out," added Evans.
Bellis clarified that the town's solution was just a start. He said it would take a much larger push to create lasting change that has a significant environmental impact.
Following the vote on the single-use plastic ordinance, Bellis presented a resolution that would see the council support a bill currently on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that would "create a temporary moratorium on new or expanded permits for facilities that manufacture plastics until regulations are updated to address pollution from the facilities."
He said it was important to "hold the manufacturers responsible for the waste product," rather than passing that cost onto the consumer or local government.
Bellis said there was only so much the town could do, but they would try to lead by example until national initiatives begin to emerge. "Until that happens, we're all kind of doing our own thing," he said. He suggested the main legislation should be developed with the manufacturing industry "so they will not challenge it."
The council voted unanimously to approve both the ordinance banning single-use plastics and the resolution supporting the House Bill aimed at stopping new plastic manufacturing. As it stands, the Taos ban will begin on Nov. 1, but Bellis said serious fines or consequences will not be enforced until Jan. 1, 2022.