It's tempting to fantasize about a world without plastic and paper bags, replaced by reusable totes -- until you try to find a substitute pooper scooper or garbage bag for under the sink. The question is how Californians can protect the environment and retain a reasonable level of consumer comfort. Up to now, the state has done deplorably little to reduce plastic bag trash; unfortunately, the latest legislative measure in Sacramento would tilt too far in the other direction.
Sure, something has to be done about all the flimsy plastic bags out there. They're the third most common trash item found on California's beaches (after cigarette butts and plastic bottle caps) and thus a major component of the ocean's floating garbage patches that can stretch as big as the state of Texas. The bags also waft into undeveloped land, snag on bushes and threaten wildlife. Even though they fall apart after a couple of uses, they take generations to degrade in landfills. They're not even all that good for carrying groceries. What's the point of having a bag if it can't hold more than a single half-gallon of milk or a box of cereal?
Just as cities were considering fees on plastic bags, the Legislature, pressured by manufacturers, passed a law forbidding such charges, mandating store-based recycling instead. Those haven't worked. Only 5% of plastic carry-out bags are recycled.