Trends in Plastic Bag Use
May 11, 2007
One morning, about two years ago, I woke up to find that everyone agreed global warming was a reality. A week or two ago I woke up to find that America’s mainstream media decided it was cool to report on plastic bags. Surprising, given that the catalyst appears to be San Francisco, which banned the non-biodegradable ones from grocery stores, and we all know San Francisco is home to all those uncool people who have been using cloth grocery bags for years. The mainstream media thinks twice before reporting on anything out of the Bay Area, because it’s not *really* America. (I am both hopeful and fearful of finding other signs that San Francisco is the new mainstream.)
For whatever reason, now is the time that other cities and towns all over the world are considering similar bans or restrictions. (Or at least now is when these are getting reported.)
It’s a little bizarre to read these dehistoricized, U.S.-focused articles, which forget to note plastic bag restrictions across the world. Our predecessors could be a source of insight for how people and businesses adjust. Take Chad, Zanzibar, and parts of India, to name only a few.
As my use of “uncool” above indicates, part of the American reluctance to adopt reusable bags is cultural. So the fashion industry is doing its part as well. Vogue’s May issue puts it nicely:
No loitering, girls. Today, let us go out and harness the power of fashion to change the way the nation shops. One stylish act of rebellion in supermarkets, delis, drugstores, and designer emporiums and at market stalls is all it takes: Say no to plastic bags. Whip out your own brilliant alternative. Make people stare. Break a habit. Set a trend. It’s high time for fashion – in the midst of the most bag-centric phase in its entire history – to stand up and be counted on this.
I personally would have a hard time putting fresh fish and stinky cheese into a $1400 satchel, but I’ll ‘whip out’ my own cheaper alternative. Maybe from here. But it’s true that I’m only doing it because people are now saying it’s cool. But then do I look like a follower? Don’t answer that, I’m being cheeky.
Less cheeky: The concern over petroleum-based bags is a promising development not only for the environment. Some biodegradable bags contain corn starch or sugar. Maybe these will divert the U.S.’s corn glut out of our processed foods. (These BioBags look really useful for yard clippings and food waste.) There’s a certain poetry in the idea that the US obesity problem might diminish thanks to a new kind of plastic bag. Which would reduce fuel consumption, healthcare costs… maybe we have found the key to saving the world? (Ok, cheeky again.)