Consumers still vastly prefer plastic bags, but the end may be coming.
In my youth, those long-ago days of the 1970s, the only plastic you ever used at the grocery store was a MasterCharge or BankAmerica Card. Groceries were bagged in brown paper bags of varying sizes and thickness (and always double-bagged for the heavy frozen foods).
Today, in an era when it’s rare to see anyone use cash at the grocery store, it’s even rarer to see paper bags of any sort. An entire generation has come of age that has never heard the “paper or plastic” question outside of old movies and TV shows. We live in a “plastic today, plastic tomorrow, plastic forever” society where seemingly everything is wrapped, tagged and displayed in the all-purpose material.
Except that “plastic forever” may not be as forever as many once thought. Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores.
What prompted the ban in the most progressive of the 50 states (for good or ill, California is often seen as the test kitchen for the rest of the country when it comes to legislation) has been anger by state residents over the pollution of streets, waterways and oceans with the ubiquitous plastic shopping bags.
Naturally, a national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers, which obviously sees a major threat to its bottom line, if not its very existence, has launched a movement to seek a voter referendum to repeal the law before it’s scheduled to take effect in July 2015.
And that vote may not be symbolic, either.
The latest research from YouGov shows that Americans narrowly disapprove of the new Californian plastic bag law, with 45 percent against it and only 39 percent in favor of the ban. In fact, YouGov research shows that more than 60 percent favor plastic over paper, with only 30 percent choosing paper when given a choice.
But is plastic still the future of personal grocery transportation? Many retailers, from big-box stores to boutique food markets, have done away with bags entirely. They rely on customers bringing their own bags or using empty boxes provided at the check-out lanes.
The bags being used (and sold by the stores themselves) are almost all reusable, made of heavy cloth, canvas or other materials, many of them designed to act as a type of cooler for refrigerated and frozen foods. Some stores have even taken the extra step of offering discounts to shoppers who bring their own bags.
The benefit is obvious: For every reusable bag, one less plastic bag lands in a landfill (or field, or creek). Multiply that by your weekly trip, and the end of plastic may well be nigh, no matter how hard the plastic bag manufacturers fight to overturn the California ban.
“Paper or plastic?” How about neither? It works for me, and it definitely could for you.