"I'm NOT a Plastic Bag": Extreme Measures in Renouncing Non-Biodegradable Substances

Today marked the New York release of Anya Hindmarch's cultishly popular canvas totes which emphatically state, "I'm NOT A Plastic Bag." Said bags, which are made in limited numbers and sold for $15, have already been released in England (where they sold out by 9am), Hong Kong and Taiwan (where those in line were privy to both fights and stampedes). New York's release promised 20,000 bags to be sold in Whole Foods stores, and bag enthusiasts began lining up last night, wrapping around the blocks and braving near flash floods this morning, only to have all the stores sell out within several hours (with the Columbus Circle location selling out in just 29 minutes).

The endless lines were largely composed of people who plan to sell the bag on eBay, recognizing its fashion-appeal (and its lucrative potential: the bags are going for $300), not people who are concerned about the drastic effects of non-biodegradable plastic bags (those people are most likely already carrying totes or reusing their bags.)

Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags a year (plastic bags that take somewhere around 500 years to decompose), and the first step towards changing this frightening number is to raise awareness, which Hindmarch's bags definitely accomplish. "To create awareness you have to create scarcity by producing a limited edition," she said in a New York Times article today. "I hate the idea of making the environment trendy, but you need to make it cool and then it becomes a habit."

But in order to make this issue more than an elite fashion accessory, there must be changes on a much grander scale. San Francisco's ban on nonbiodegradable bags is a start, as is IKEA's move to charge five cents per plastic bag, but other chains must embrace this shift as well - encouraging the public to reuse bags and giving a financial incentive to those who do.

According to the Times, the U.S. (shockingly) lags behind much of the world in plastic bag reform.

"In places like South Africa, Zanzibar, Scandinavia and Uganda, the use of such bags has been reduced or eliminated by banning or taxing them, by charging for them in stores, by giving incentives to customers who provide their own bags and by selling inexpensive reusable bags ... By the end of the year the bags will be banned in Paris, and by 2010 in all of France. In Ireland…they have cost 20 cents each, at the government’s direction, since 2002; the fee has been credited with cutting bag use more than 90 percent. In Uganda plastic bags are banned entirely. Bans, restrictions or incentives to switch to reusable bags are in place in towns and cities in Australia, India, Pakistan, Taiwan, Canada and Britain."

The list goes on. Literally. It becomes almost tedious to read the names of the countries who are doing more to encourage reusable bags than the United States. Must we always be the absolute last to adopt progressive, environmentally conscious measures?

As the answer seems to be a resolute, "yes," it falls to individuals to make the first move. Amidst the swirl of a thousand eco-related, global warming-induced concerns, there really is an easy fix here, and one that doesn't require any red tape maneuvering or bureaucratic navigation: Stop using plastic bags. Opt for paper (although still not ideal), reuse the ones you already have, or carry a tote. It doesn't have to be made by a famous designer or splashily renounce its plastic predecessor but it should become a habit. Because waiting for a canvas bag for hours in a torrential downpour is a little ridiculous, but refusing to embrace an easy solution is even worse.

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  • Sam

    ESAS Trade is comprised of professionals who recognize and promote “that the easiest and cheapest way to solve the garbage problem is to reduce the amount generated”. Reusable bags help reduce waste and pollution from plastic and paper bags, and promote earth conscious alternatives.
    Please check our site at www.reusablewholesale.com or www.esastrade.com for more information on how you can save the mother earth by using reusable bags.

  • Kat

    It doesn’t really matter where it’s made, or what it’s made out of… The point is, people who like this bag will want to use it and that in itself can reduce the consumption of plastic bags.
    The goal wasn’t to diminish child labor or cheap labor in China.

    If people like this bag and decide to use it as an alternative to plastic shopping bags, then the message and goal is effective.

    People who want this bag know its intended purpose and ultimately it’s a personal choice to stop using plastic or not. The bag itself doesn’t make a difference, it’s the attitude people adopt.

    The message is boldly imprinted on the bag so it’s promoting awareness and a 2nd look at things.
    Like if you bring it to a supermarket where everyone is packing their stuff in plastic, they might think twice next time.

    ----BTW, don't be fooled by the price drop of these bags on ebay, there are tons of fakes out there, over half of them are sold from China now. Beware of the lack of pictures, new sellers with little or no feedback!!!

  • Ann

    Okay, I get the idea of reusing your plastic bags, but I would like to hear from all that do this. What do you use for garbage bags. What do you do with all the wet stuff that goes in the garbage. Or do you not have any garbage at all???

    I am really wondering about this. Please fill me in on what how you get rid of your "garbage" meaning non recyclables.

  • hmmm

    hmm, it's interesting to see that majority of the people waiting for said bag are asian. The same ones who often reuse the "Free" grocery bags as garbage bags. This is not a racist comment but merely a truth, at least in NYC.

  • AL

    How silly to blame the U.S. for using plastic bags. They were in use in Europe for a very long time before they inevitably made their way over here. Since we were among the last to adopt them, I guess we'll be among the last to get rid of them, too.

    At our house, we still have paper grocery bags we have been reusing for years. Now paper is making a comeback. Yawn.

    And the plastic ones? We recycle them along with all the other plastic.

  • Wilco

    I bought my tote bags a while ago at reusablebags.com. Cost me about $5 each, and they hold the same amount as about 3 to 4 plastic bags.

    Still get the odd eye at the grocery store, but I get my tote bag packed for me every time. I am not an environmentalist, don't take the bus to work, or anything, but do think that you should reduce waste of resources whenever possible.

    Using your own tote bag is an easy way to do this!

  • Frymaster Speck

    It's kind of sad that this story is getting so much press while Whole Foods ran another, similar and much more effective effort earlier this summer.

    If you live in a Whole Foods market, you've probably seen those tote bags that look like a box of clementines. Those appeared one day by the check out counter and were selling for $1. It was THE trendy tote bag with the tattoo-emblazoned cogniscenti in my area.