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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

The brown paper bag I carried out of the bookstore wasn’t there for the sake of discretion. Truth be told, the bookstore refuses to handle plastic anymore.

Ideally, the clerk told me, the store was on the verge of going entirely bagless, so I was lucky to be handed a brown paper sack. But it was raining, fortunately, and as I walked down the sidewalk trying to shield my new purchase, I secretly imagined a few genuine watermarks marring the surface of a page or two—indelible reminders that the spine of the West’s summer drought had finally been broken.

When (and if) the electronic book revolution gets more flexible and affordable, this bookstore might also be going bookless. Despite our latest national fixation with banning disposable plastic bags, nobody knows exactly how the future will be packaged. From an eBook merchandiser’s point of view, the traditional book is the archetype of excess packaging, and the ideas on the page are the only product an ecologically minded consumer should have to purchase. As a wordmonger, I tend to agree, but not entirely.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking that the Earth would be a lot better off without plastic bags. At the time of their appearance in the consumer world, they were touted as cheaper, lighter, more durable and a blessing when it came to saving trees. Now, as is the case with many innovations, the blessing has been transformed into a curse: No matter where you live, plastic bags billow and blow like dried leaves across the landscape or clog up the rivers. Allegedly, 100 billion of them get tossed out annually, a one-use trip from the checkout line to the landfill.

Major cities in the West have taken action to ban the plastic bag, some going so far as to charge shoppers 10 cents and a nasty look if they must beg for paper. Last month, California became the first state to enact a ban.

During disposable-bag debates, I wonder if anyone is talking about the sheer volume of packaging being hauled away inside those plastic and paper hammocks that cradle the products we buy, not to mention the shipping cartons and reams of plastic wrap that arrive by the semi-load at every shopping outlet before the merchandise gets arranged as stock on every American retail shelf.

Yes, there’s plenty of waste to go around, but the burden of it manages to fall, once again, squarely in the shopper’s cart.

I try to remember my reusable bags when I go out. Just like the 15 pairs of reading glasses I tuck into every corner of my house, bags are stuffed all over my vehicle, into the trunk, under the seats and in the glove compartment. I compress them into the tiny pockets of my backpack, bicycle and scooter saddlebags. Yet somehow, inevitably, I sometimes end up standing bagless in the checkout line, forced to accept plastic bags, or if I’m really lucky, increasingly rare paper bags, which come in handy as garbage-can liners.

I’m guessing that this new set of regulations will only prompt human beings to find sneakier ways around them. Some cities that have banned the bag have already reported increases in shoplifting, thanks to the influx of personal reusable sacks in their stores. Sadly, as long as saving money is the bottom line, the planet will never be our No. 1 concern.

As a community, I know we should be more than semi-conscious about the problem, but then again, is anyone keeping track of how many customers reuse or recycle the plastic bags they collect in some form or another? I know we’re offered secondhand bags with every secondhand purchase we make at garage sales and thrift stores. Surely, education and not just banning plastic bags, is key to solving the problem. Or am I a Pollyanna?

Though I may be compost before the average plastic bag breaks down, I can’t help foreseeing a future city or coastline where mounds of tote bags—all discarded—have come to rest. Ah, someone tells me, this is our newest unnatural wonder, the great dunes of our good intentions.

David Feela is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

This week on a cleansing Independent comics page: Red Meat struggles over a new nighttime ritual; The City sends calls straight to voice mail; Jen Sorenson ponders the right to bear bags; and The K Chronicles examines the case of Florida's Marissa Alexander.

Published in Comics

It isn't really my bag to write about bags, but it's not easy being green when you have to answer questions like, "Paper or plastic?"

The Palm Springs Sustainability Commission has been researching the idea of a plastic-bag ban in the city. Dozens of cities and counties across California have already adopted plastic-bag bans, and Palm Springs would be the first city in the desert to follow their lead.

In other cities where a plastic-bag ban is already in place, there is also fee of 10 to 25 cents per paper bag. The idea is that adding a charge for paper-bag use will also help encourage people to switch to reusable bags. The only drawback would be the tendency for reusable bags to harbor bacteria, so the public would have to get into the habit of washing them periodically.

There are a lot of things we can do here in the valley to help the environment, and our large population of senior citizens is just the group we need to help us accomplish this goal. Our country has a history of putting elderly people out to pasture, and this attitude cannot be tolerated. We need to give these seniors a feeling of usefulness so they can continue to contribute to society. The most efficient way to do this would be to replace all the plastic bags with our beloved old bags. There are plenty of old bags in the area who would be more than happy to assist in this effort. There could even be an organization dedicated to making these seniors available to the public called, "Bunch Of Old Bags Interested in Earth's Survival," or BOOBIES for short.

If someone needs to go shopping, they can enlist the help of one of these BOOBIES to carry the groceries for them. The BOOBIES would also have a reusable clause in their contract so they can be called upon again and again for their services. However, it would be the shopper's responsibility to wash these reusable old bags to prevent any bacteria from spreading.

Unfortunately, plastic bags aren't the only threat to the environment. We also have a severe water shortage here in the desert. There are 66 golf courses in Palm Springs. On average, each consumes more than a million gallons of water per day.

So what can we do about the situation besides asking our local Native Americans to perform a rain dance? The solution lies in raising money to build a reservoir, and there's no better way to do this than to have a benefit concert.

The Doobie Brothers could perform their hit song "Black Water" for the occasion. While the Doobies are singing, the BOOBIES could pass out bags for donations.

Let's not forget one of the most important ways to be green. Everyone needs to do their part to save electricity. The desert is the perfect place to utilize solar energy. Our never-ending supply of sunshine makes it a no-brainer. That's why famous no-brainer George W. Bush should be appointed to assemble a solar panel to study solar panels.

Can you imagine a world with no plastic bags, plenty of fresh water, and unlimited electricity? It may sound like a fairy tale, but as Frank Sinatra would say, "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you're young at heart." That would include all of our young-at-heart old bags, of course.

Lights out.

Published in Humor