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My life without plastic bags

The reality is that life without plastic grocery bags is entirely doable and a lot better for the environment. But it does require some adjusting.

June 19, 2013|By Karin Klein
  • The L.A. City Council voted to ban plastic bags in supermarkets, convenience stores and any big retailer that sells groceries. Above: A clerk bags groceries in plastic bags in Los Angeles.
The L.A. City Council voted to ban plastic bags in supermarkets, convenience… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)

Now that the Los Angeles City Council has tentatively approved a ban on plastic carry-out bags, I'd like to report to you that it'll be easy to live without them. I'd like to say that after a similar ban took effect in my city this year, I had no problem getting my groceries to the car, no problem lining my garbage cans and no moments of annoyance.

Truth is, though, it can be a pain. Sometimes, you just crave a flimsy wisp of plastic with built-in handles to carry out the trash, or to hold some messy item that should not see the inside of a backpack. The reality is that life without plastic bags is entirely doable and a lot better for the environment, but it does require some adjusting.

I've long been a believer in reducing the use of plastic bags, which always struck me as pretty unwieldy for groceries, anyway. Two or three items generally fit into a bag, or just one item if it's heavy — and the bag is doubled. People wheel 10 or more fluttering white bags out of the store, filled with goods that would fit into just one of my insulated, reusable bags that can be easily hoisted onto my shoulder.

It turns out the bags' evils aren't limited to the fact that they spawned an entire generation of grocery baggers who have no idea that canned beans do not go on top of ripe peaches. They also are the second-largest source of trash on California's beaches and are major contributors to plastics pollution in the ocean, endangering animals and adding to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I also remember a hike in a wildlife-rich canyon where scores of bags were snagged on trees as though they were part of a Christo art installation.

How will you pick up after your dog? It's a cinch: Only the bags at the checkout counters are banned, because they're the ones that mostly show up as trash in waterways and at the beach. The bags you put your celery in or that this newspaper is delivered in are just as useful when walking the dog. As for trash, you can always buy liners, but we went purist, back to the old-fashioned trash pail. Yes, it needs to be washed from time to time. As do your reusable grocery bags. And yes, it's another inconvenience, but I think we're all up to it.

Then there are the moments, more numerous than I like to admit, when you'll wheel up to the checkout counter and realize you left your reusable bags at home. And this much is true: Even if you just bought $30 worth of groceries, spending an extra 10 cents for a paper bag somehow stings.

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