Reminiscing about “paper or plastic?”

plastic bags knitted or crocheted into a reusable bag“Paper or plastic?” may soon be obsolete…at least in California. On June 2, the California State Assembly passed a bill (AB 1998) to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. The bill goes to the Senate later this month, and if it passes, the golden state will become the first in the union to ban the option.

In San Francisco, there is already a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags at chain grocery stores and pharmacies, and today, an expansion of the existing legislation is being introduced that could lead to more extensive city-wide elimination of plastic bags. This prospect makes someone like me very very happy.

The SF Department of the Environment provided a startling figure at their booth at a local farmer’s market last week: 380 billion single-use plastic bags consumed in the U.S. each year, and that translates to 1,500 per person. California consumes 19 billion of those bags each year – more than any other state. These numbers are astounding. Things have to change, and thankfully they are…slowly but surely.

Declining a bag at the checkout stand used to be met with a look of disbelief or surprise. Why on earth would you decline the reward – the “gift” of a bag – when making a purchase? Today, shoppers are acknowledged with gratitude for just saying no to a bag, and in some stores, they are given a credit of five or ten cents for each bag they bring to reuse. Bringing your own takes practice and eventually becomes as automatic as grabbing your wallet, keys, and cellphone each time you head out the door.

But now that the plastic bag is gradually being shown the door both locally and worldwide, it is hard not to get nostalgic about the impact it has had on our lives. Countless numbers of us have held on to most every plastic bag that entered our homes with the intention of using them again and again. But just how many bags do you really need? Just think about the epic struggles you have had while trying corral your large and inadvertent collection crinkly fluffy beasts into a cabinet or drawer.

Are you now inclined to visit your plastic bags to see what’s there? Are you feeling the urge to downsize your collection and to liberate and regain control of a vital storage opportunity in your kitchen or pantry? If yes, I urge you to do so mindfully.

  • Be realistic about how many bags you actually need on hand at a given time.
  • What will you use and reuse regularly? Keep those and recycle the rest.
  • Bring the “rejects” to  your local grocery store or hardware store where they are collected for recycling. (Can you believe that less than one percent of all plastic bags consumed are actually recycled? Most end up in landfill.)
  • If you are crafty and clever, maybe you can turn your bags (with a little help from your friends’) into a container of their own. See that bag in the photo at the top of this post? It is made exclusively from single-use plastic bags!

knitting single-use plastic bags to make a reusable bag

Learning to do without something we’ve become accustomed to is not easy. Like most things that are good for us, the initial trial or two or three is awkward or bitter. Whether it’s stopping smoking, doing more exercise, sticking to a diet, or even taking icky tasting medicine it’s hard. After a little while, we notice the positive effects.

At some point down the road, we’ll all think back on those days when we had to choose between paper and plastic. And when that time comes, this brilliant, poignant and impactful little film by Ramin Bahrani (and narrated by Werner Herzog) will bring us back in time.


Thanks to Hannah’s friend for creating such an inspiring bag, and thanks to Hannah  for letting me photograph it during my visit last year!

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