Los Alamos County Councilor Antonio Maggiore speaks at Tuesday’s meeting in Council Chambers at the Los Alamos Municipal Building. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Aven Heavner, 9, a student at Barranca Mesa Elementary School and her mother, Carrie Talus at Tuesday’s meeting of the Los Alamos County Council. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Councilor Antonio Maggiore wants to bring back weekly recycle collection and begin working towards implementing a composting system for the County.
Maggiore made his comments Tuesday evening discussion Council discussion of a petition signed by Ann LePage and more than 40 other residents asking Los Alamos County Council to ban distribution of single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam. LePage told Council it’s time for them to step up and be the leaders.
“We are approaching a very dangerous point in our environmental history and now it is the time for governments of various types to step up and do something,” she said.
LePage said for decades now Los Alamos has been in the forefront of innovation and she thinks this is the time for Los Alamos to step up and be at the forefront of the issue.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore said there’s not a time that the issue is not going to be a timely one.
“When I look out in the audience and I see young faces, the faces that we’re supposed to be leaving this planet to, it is hard not to feel an imperative need to pursue this sort of thing,” he said.
Maggiore noted the comments the Council received and the fact that issue four years ago the discussion did not result in a ban on single-use plastic bags.
“One thing that was mentioned repeatedly in the previous petition material was educating and improving outreach. I think that is something that we have made some steps in but I think that is something we are falling far short in,” he said. “We’re not pushing hard enough to see these changes happening in our community and we do need to push towards this.”
Maggiore said when it comes to reducing the waste stream and positively impacting the environment, one of the best things the County can do is pull compostables from the waste stream.
“I would like us to aggressively pursue developing composting in the County at all levels. If we start at restaurants and move down to houses that’s fine but that seems like a very low-hanging fruit that seems easily attainable,” he said.
Maggiore said that as intuitively obvious on the one hand as it seems to just ban plastics, he is still not convinced that it is the right way to go because paper which is often put up as the alternative has huge environmental costs associated with it.”
“I’m sure I was one of the Councilors people expected to support this. In a lot of ways I do support it. One of the things I do support about this is bringing attention back to the forefront. We are going to have to have a much more difficult conversation about recycling in the coming months. Recycling is a huge cost and it is a cost that is going to be going up. There’s going to be an uncomfortable discussion. I would love to expand recycling back to every week instead of every other week. I think there are positive steps we can take. All of those steps are going to come with some costs,” he said.
He said banning the items requested has to be a discussion of the whole community and that the issue is not one he is comfortable “acting on capriciously from the dais”.
Councilor David Izraelevitz noted that he was involved in 2015 when the Council was first asked to ban the plastic bags. He said he thought it was a good discussion and was not at all against having this discussion again four years later.
Councilor James Robinson, a former member of the Environmental Sustainability Board, current Council liaison to that board, said it was a difficult thing for him to weigh on both sides of the issue.
“There’s a cost to everything – to not act soon and have this material out in our landfills to sit there for the next 1,000 years or to act too soon and add a burden to those who already have a challenge keeping up with the challenges of modern day life. It’s a double edged sword. I favor if it has a phased-in approach,” he said.
Council listened to extensive public comment including a statement from nine-year old Aven Heavner, a Barranca Mesa Elementary School student who asked the Council to take action.
Joyce Anderson pointed that the County has no composting to take advantage of using alternatives to Styrofoam or plastic which means that one alternative containers are used they can’t be recycled and go into the landfill.
Jody Benson told the Council it’s a “no-brainer” eliminate the non-essential, non-recyclable garbage that has a thousand year lifecycle because all they have to do is say no to it.
“All it takes is political will. People get used to the change. People got used to not tossing their trash out onto the highway. People got used to not smoking in public places and that took almost 60 years and now we’re used to it. And they’ll get used to taking their own bags to the stores just like citizens of Silver City, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, seven whole American states, 11 African countries and New York City,” she said.
There was much discussion of sending the issue to the Environmental Sustainability Board but some Councilors felt that the board has too much on its plates. Maggiore said the ESB is buried and that he doesn’t think there’s an actual awareness of the amount of effort put in by the ESB and its volunteers. He was also concerned that the Save As You Throw campaign would get convoluted with the bag ban issue.
“We’re trying to create some clarity (on recycling) and bundling this issue with Save As You Throw is not going to do that,” Maggiore said.
Councilors Sheehey, Katrina Schmidt and Robinson agreed that a town hall approach might work best to determine the views of constituents on the issue and all three volunteered to serve on a committee for that purpose.
Council voted 5-1 to acknowledge the petition submitted by LePage, thank the petitioners for their request, and request staff and associated boards to research the matter and return to them with information, options and recommendation by Dec. 1. Councilor Izraelevitz, who wanted the issue to go to the ESB, voted against the motion. Council Chair Sara Scott was absent.