This week, California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags. Going forward, customers at grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience marts will have two options for bagging their purchases: they can pay ten cents for a paper bag, or they can bring a reusable bag from home.
Supporters argued that the ban would help cut down on plastic litter — particularly in the oceans, where the bags can pose a threat to sea turtles and other marine life.
But this is also part of a bigger trend. Dozens of cities — including Chicago, Dallas, and DC — either tax plastic bags or ban them outright. And among shoppers, bringing a reusable bag from home has become the most visible symbol of environmental-friendliness. If recycling was the quintessential environmental activity of the the 1970s and 80s, toting a reusable bag may be today's.
There's nothing wrong with any of this. It's a mildly positive step for the planet — especially if the goal is to cut down on plastic waste. But the disproportionate emphasis on plastic bags among people who care about the environment is also a bit misplaced. If you want to use your shopping choices to benefit wildlife and the environment as a whole, the type of bag you use is far less important than what you put inside it.