The Question of Plastic Bags: Banning the Bags + The Plastic Bag Tree

Bearss lime tree, with plastic bags
Bearss lime tree, with plastic bags
A. Scattergood

Finally, after much wringing of hands and, presumably, grocery bags, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ban plastic grocery bags in unincorporated areas of the county. But although seriously overdue, the new legislation is hardly problem-free, particularly as it does not cover 88 cities in L.A. County. There's also a loophole, in which plastic bags that are used to hold fruit, vegetables or raw meat are allowed, in order to prevent contamination with other grocery items.

So if you live in places not covered by the ban, does that mean that you should just ignore the issue? Um, no. Here's a breathtakingly simple alternative: Do It Yourself. If we all stopped using the things, would we need government intervention? That's a rhetorical question. We can all bring our own reusable bags to the store, and we can (gasp) recycle the ones we have.

My mother recycled long before it was fashionable. Thirty-five years ago, going all green and sustainable was called being practical or, perhaps more accurately, being poor. She washed out tin cans and glass jars and reused them, patched clothes and redistributed them; she even -- to my abject horror -- insisted on saving the wrapping paper from Christmasses and birthdays, snipping the flags of tape off and folding the paper up neatly and putting it away to be used again, the patterns showing up with stubborn frequency throughout my childhood. Perhaps the most troublesome thing to reuse was plastic bags, which are difficult to clean and even more difficult to dry.

I remember them hanging from kitchen cabinet knobs, which I found then and still find to be truly irritating, like an obsessive spring cleaning that never ends. But perhaps the best way to dry plastic bags is by clipping them to a tree. Your kitchen will not be cluttered by clusters of dripping bags (water the lawn, if you still have one). And the bags dry a whole lot faster in the outdoor breeze anyway.

Here's a Bearss lime tree that works rather well, with enough blowy leaves to keep the whole procedure prettily pastoral. Use wooden clothespins and make sure that they have good, tight hinges and remember not to do this when the Santa Anas are gusting. The goal is to recycle, after all, not to create more junk, which an opaque flotilla of bags or a solitary one, suddenly unmoored and blowing down the street, would be. American Beauty notwithstanding.


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