SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Tuesday, New Mexico’s legislators took the state one step closer to banning plastic shopping bags. The idea is to keep the ubiquitous bags from polluting and trashing New Mexico’s environment.

“What this bill does is it addresses the significant environmental impacts resulting from the use and disposal of single-use plastic carryout bags in New Mexico, which cause contamination of the environment, the death of animals through ingestion and entanglement, and widespread public litter,” explained bill co-sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero (D-Abq.).

House Bill 432 would ban single-use plastic shopping bags across the state. It would also allow local municipalities and counties to enact penalties for violating the ban. Co-sponsor Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Doña Ana) says it could prevent 500 million bags from going into the environment each year.

The House Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources Committee debated the bill and heard from members of the public and lobbyists. Douglas Meiklejohn, a lobbyist for Conservation Voters New Mexico, urged the committee to support the bill: “The plastic bags in question do not degrade. They remain in the environment as a continuing source of pollution long after their single use,” Meiklejohn said.

Others spoke in opposition of the bill. An Albuquerque resident, David, noted that ‘single-use’ is a misnomer because the bags can be reused, for example as trashcan liners. “If people can’t use these bags as trashcan liners, are going to have to buy plastic bags [to use as liners] in the store anyway,” David said. “So, what are we accomplishing if we ban these plastic bags?” David also said that instead of banning the bags, the state should come up with a better recycling program.

The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce also opposed the ban. They said it would force businesses to raise prices.

Rep. Rod Montoya (R-San Juan) asked why the state shouldn’t just leave the decision to ban plastic bags up to local communities. In addition, he noted that “as far as climate change goes, there’s not that much [impact] in plastics,” he added. (Note that some people disagree with that: Because the creation of plastic bags relies heavily on fossil fuels, the production process of plastic, including bags, can measurably contribute to the release of greenhouse gasses. Of course, producing paper bags or other alternatives also have a climate impact.)

In response, Steinborn said this is an issue at the state level. “This is one of those environmental issues that’s serious enough that it warrants state action,” he said. “This is a helpful policy to all the citizens of the state.”

The bill would add New Mexico to a growing list of states that ban plastic bags. California was the first to ban plastic bags in large retail stores in 2014. Since then, states such as Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Delaware, Maine, Connecticut, and Vermont have followed suit. Steinborn says it’s time New Mexico join them.

Ultimately, the committee voted to move the bill forward. And if the ban eventually becomes law, Steinborn suggests businesses switch to alternatives such as paper bags, which can be recycled and can biodegrade more easily.