Plastic or paper: The freedom to choose

February 7, 2013

While the clerk packed my order into a plastic bag at Target, she said, “Starting sometime in February, we have to charge you ten cents for each plastic bag. This one is still free.”

“Then please make mine a double,” I requested. I may be in the minority, but I save old plastic bags and reuse them. I have photographs stored in plastic bags older than the Target clerk.

Large stores must stop giving away plastic bags beginning February 20.

The manager of the Ralph’s on La Brea lamented inconveniencing his customers once he is forced to eliminate plastic bags and charge ten cents for paper bags, while the Ralph’s around the corner on Sunset, and just outside West Hollywood, remains free to distribute complimentary paper or plastic bags.

At Trader Joe’s in West Hollywood, a crew member said they will begin charging for paper bags soon.

“Have you read your bags lately?” I asked. He understandably looked a little puzzled, but said he hadn’t read a paper bag recently.

We read a bag. “Look,” I said, “it says ‘reusable, recyclable and compostable.’ If it were any more environmentally friendly it would decompose on the way home, so why discourage us from using it?”

“I know, it doesn’t really make sense to us either, but it’s the law,” he replied.

A dear friend advocates shopping with her own durable bags she keeps in her trunk instead of the paper or plastic store bags, to save the environment.

“I like paper bags,” I explained. “I use them to line my kitchen trash container and hold my recyclables. What do you use for your kitchen trash?”

Whole Foods and other grocery stores will charge ten cents per paper bag to customers who do not bring one with them.

“Oh, I buy plastic garbage bags,” she replied. “Ah, I see what you mean,” she added, noticing my eyeballs sprung from their sockets. Her plastic garbage bags are destined to join the migration to the Texas-sized floating island of debris, the existence of which is as questionable as the floating island in Life of Pi.   

West Hollywood’s Plastic Bag Ban urges us to purchase durable plastic bags to save plastic, recommends we wash them often (blithely ignoring the impact of this additional use of water and electricity), drive the gas-guzzler to another store and use the durable bags to carry cardboard packages of single-use plastic bags, manufactured for the sole purpose of being thrown away, and dings us a dime for not throwing our trash out in plastic.

The City is unintentionally behaving like a Nanny State, and it just woke up my inner infant.

This bag law doesn’t solve environmental problems, is inconvenient and costly to consumers, and contradicts itself by encouraging durable and paper bags while simultaneously penalizing us for the paper bags.

According to West Hollywood’s website, the Plastic Bag Ban requires stores to use the tax-free income from paper bag fees to stock the paper bags they’ve been stocking for years, the cost of which we’ve been paying all along, and infringes on our right to choose between paper bags and durable bags.

Smaller stores have until later this year to comply with the plastic bag ban.

While packing a lot of hyperbole into one lowly paper bag, I do hope the responsible authorities promptly reconsider the fee on paper bags in the new Plastic Bag Ban, and avoid the loud and costly public outcry that will arise when paper bag fees are hiked from a dime to a quarter per bag.

It may seem farfetched, but it is exactly what is happening now in the Bay Area.

Perhaps the Creative City can make a true difference, repeal the paper bag dime ding, restore free choice to a well-informed community (there are at least forty ways to reuse plastic bags, according to, and boldly make a statement reversing the dangerous Nanny State-hood trend.

West Hollywood, following other cities’ leads, is bulldozing its creative, progressive legacy of freedom and individuality by imposing an ineffective, cosmetic, copy-cat law, to appear green and politically correct.

What’s the next arbitrary ban, an eco-surcharge on burgers?

After all, ground beef comes from cows which, as we know, contribute to global warming through bovine flatulence.

Of course, people can always refuse to purchase bags and carry their purchases home without. We live in a land of choices.

That could be taxing enough to propel us all to eat at Chick-fil-A.


The law:

Supermarkets and large retail establishments over 10,000 square feet will not be able to supply plastic bags after February 20, 2013, six months of the effective date of the ordinance. 

Retail stores under 10,000 square feet will have until August 20, 2013 to comply with the plastic bag ban, 12 months from the effective date of the ordinance. 

Stores are required to charge customers 10 cents for each paper bag; the stores will collect and retain the money to help cover the additional costs of stocking the paper bags. This is also an incentive to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags. 

Paper bags will be required to contain 40% post-consumer recycled content. 

Stores are encouraged to make reusable shopping bags available for purchase. 

Customers are encouraged to bring their own bags.