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.