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.)


7 Responses to “Trends in Plastic Bag Use”

  1. emilyshaw Says:

    for some reason, all of the supermarkets in Portland simultaneously began promoting their own store-branded reusable totes – and selling them for a reasonable price, which was the big problem I had with the organic-hemp-recycled-no-rainforest-fibered version. (Because I’m a cheapskate. That’s right.) We bought a bunch of fabulous huge tote bags from Shaw’s for a buck each, with some Shaw’s propaganda on the side, which is why they’re so cheap, I imagine. Also, they seem to be made out of some sort of recycled plastic woven thing. Anyway, if you want some Shaw’s bags, let me know and I’ll get some for you.

  2. rekha6 Says:

    Thanks, but I had something lying around that worked just fine. I used it today, and I felt saintly. (And a little bit like a follower, though to be fair I have used a backpack in the past when doing a “big shop”.)

    I was wondering if the cashier was inwardly rolling her eyes as I handed her 8 loose peaches to be weighed rather than use one of the thin produce bags. But that, I can proudly say, I’ve been doing for years.

    Of course, now I realize I actually need two bags for balance. And ideally, they’d match, no? Vogue neglected to point out this critical detail.

  3. John Says:

    Nice gratuituous use of the word “cheeky”!

  4. pet peeve: supermarket clerks instructed to always double bag because some bag, somewhere, once burst. talk about statistical illiteracy begetting moronic policies. and litter.

  5. 5aliveup95 Says:

    OK, I have found the design-conscious solution:

  6. brandon Says:

    Nice comments regarding Current TV. i’m biased, as a producer in VC2… thought you might find this piece that’s being prepared for air in regards to this post… also, love the blog.

    thanks for the love:

  7. rekha6 Says:

    Thanks for the pointer, and for the praise. Interesting video – not sure I’d use a pillow made out of (uncleaned) plastic bags, but apparently someone would.

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