B.Y.O.B. – Bring Your Own Bag

By Bobbie Kirkhart

Americans have never paid for grocery bags – paper or plastic. Markets would even double-bag on request. No charge. Hence, we were slow to observe that killing trees for unnecessary paper or making plastic just to pollute oceans or fill landfills was a bad idea. The first time I took a canvas bag to the grocery store, the bagger proudly informed me that she had carefully wrapped each item in plastic “to protect your nice bag.” So much for the environment.

Times have changed, at least in California. Effective July 1, 2015, large stores may not distribute plastic carrying bags. They may sell paper bags at 10₵ or more each. One year later, these laws will apply to smaller stores as well. It isn’t a big adjustment in the cities; Los Angeles, like 127 other California communities, already has a similar law in effect.

A state law is different. It affects the conservative rural areas, where there is much less support. This is the first state-wide ban in the country. There are local or regional bans in parts of 12 states and Washington, D.C., but these are mostly on the West Coast and in the Northeast. There are none in the South and few in the Midwest. It is said, especially by us Californians, that whatever California does, the nation will soon follow. This may not hold. We have become polarized to the point that much of the country sees this and other environmental laws as “the government taking over our lives.”

The dark comedy, American Beauty, ends with a lovely shot of a plastic bag lifted by the wind, circling at ground level, then caught up and lofted high, only to come down and go up and down again. In a voice-over, the lead character expresses his feelings about the movie’s tragic ending: “It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world … you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will someday.”

Few people got the metaphor of flotsam mistaken for beauty. Don’t worry; we all will someday.


American Beauty Paper Bag Final Scene

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