When is a plastic bag not a plastic bag?

OK, so this has been bothering me for a while.

California recently passed a law requiring that you either use a re-usable carry out bag at the market or pay for one. Makes sense from an environment view I guess. But… you can use 100 of the small plastic bags available in every produce department and nobody cares. Is this just an ‘at least we’re doing SOMETHING’ thing or am I missing a point here?


If the reasoning is similar to that in the UK, then I suspect it’s about doing “something”. In the English part of the country, bags are now charged at 5p each. The success of the scheme shows in that it has resulted in an 85% reduction in use.

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This is true, but I don’t see the clear plastic produce bags lying in the street or snagged on tree branches. So maybe it’s - at least partly - litter-related. 'Cause here’s what I see from my window right this second: a tree sporting a white plastic bag and a black plastic bag.

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I am guessing “one step at a time” which is very similar to “at least we are doing something”. Sometime it is difficult to implement everything at the same time, and sometime there are unknown/unpredicted consequence, so it sense to do so in steps.

That article reads like it was written by the marketing department of the Plastics Industry Association.

Do British markets use the lightweight, smaller plastic bags we have here for all produce? If so, do they charge for them? Here they’re free even where the bigger (carry-out) size have been done away with. The ones charged for now are USUALLY heavy-weight bags, larger than the ones banned. The cost seems to be 10¢ in most places here in CA.

I’d say “yes” - although it’s some years since I shopped in an American supermarket and can’t recall how your bags compared with our bags. And, yes, as mentioned earlier, those are the ones now charged for. With the significant reduction in usage, it has to be regarded as a success.

Here’s a cradle to grave study:

I switched off when I saw that it was going to be 120 pages of government-speak.

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I went and looked at my saved bags.
The meat/vegetable bags are #2- meaning (relatively) safe and household recyclable.
The grocery sacks are #3- meaning not recyclable and not food safe, more stuff like PVC pipe.

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I shop at Rainbow Grocery Co-op in San Francisco; it provides two sizes of compostable bags for produce and bulk items like grains, flours, nuts, etc., at no charge. It also reimburses five cents for every produce bag brought from home.

  1. We line our scavengers-provided “upstairs” compost bins and our kitchen garbage container with store-bought, 13-gal biodegradable/compostable bags.
  2. San Francisco,s Recology (our garbage co.) has just introduced plastic bag recycling!
  3. For at least a decade I’ve been reusing little paper bags rxs come in for bagging small produce items, just as I use washed yogurt, etc. containers for other bulk items, like olives.

You bring your own smal produce bags to the market? I’m impressed.

Actually, for whatever reason it’s happening, I’ve been noticing fewer and fewer of the small bag roll dispensers in my local markets’ produce areas. I haven’t seen any suggestion that they want us to just bring produce loose to the registers, but perhaps that’s the eventual plan.

Correction: 3, not 13, gallon bags

One problem is that many vegetables start to compost in the compostable bags and need to be transfered or at least removed before being refrigerated.
I think SF’s Rainbow Grocery Co-op gets part of the credit for instilling good habits: for years now it has credited 5 cents for every small bag customers bring.

My problem with the compostable bags is that the bags themselves start to compost and fall apart in the fridge. And I am a greenie in general.

But I do bring my plastic produce bags to the farmers market. Unless I am buying stuff that requires a clean bag, like salad greens or e.g. grapes, I don’t see a difference using new or used plastic bags in holding produce that requires cleaning and cooking, e.g. potatoes, squash, etc. Unless the bags are really dirty and disgusting, that is.

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As we see more and more plastic bag bans (at least here in the US), it adds a new wrinkle to traveling: do you need to have your own bags at your destination? (We got hit with that in California a few years ago. Luckily we had bought only a few items.)

Washable, reusable nylon mesh produce bags make a lot of sense. They weigh close to nothing so do not add to produce cost. And last close to forever.

My daughter got me one and it was useful because it seemed to dry a lot faster (just hanging from doorknob) than natural fabric or cotton mesh bags. And it washed easier if something had split and juiced up the bag (rinsed right off whereas with cotton mesh I felt I needed to use soap). Mine wasn’t very durable, though (but it was not the brand you show here - probably some knockoff) - I got about a month’s use out of it before I was getting side tears and the hem covering the draw string was parting. So if you’re getting better life out of this brand, that’s a good deal.

I mostly just use the larger reusable plain plastic bags from Aldi. I’ve gotten about 2 years use from 2 of them, serially for about the last 10 years (except one lasted over 4 years). They only seem to tear if I do something dumb like placing a quart of cream sideways so that “sharp” top of the carton ends up slicing its way down the side of the bag.

I’ve tried the spunbond nonwoven reusables that are commonly pushed at big chain grocers and they seem to come apart at the bindings (handle attach or bottom) within just a few uses.