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Hansen: Plastics death greatly exaggerated

Hansen: Plastics death greatly exaggerated

An out-of-state visitor stands in line at a Laguna Beach supermarket, and the female checker asks him, “paper bag for 10 cents or did you bring your own?”

The man looks dumbfounded and shoots a look across to the young male bagger, as if wanting some slack.


The checker kindly explains the situation, saying that the city has banned plastic bags.

“I’m so glad I moved out of this state,” the man huffs, tucking his groceries under his arm as he leaves.


“We are too,” the bagger whispers with a grin as the man gets out of earshot.

It is a bit of comic relief in the latest paper-plastic battle.

For the most part on Tuesday when the ban went into effect, local residents seemed cool with the new law — although not always prepared.

Many people forgot their own bags but were not too bothered about paying for paper or ponying up for the new reusable bags.


There are several varieties to choose from, ranging in price from about 30 cents to a $1.50.

They are stacked throughout the checkout counters, gleaming with pithy slogans like, “Less plastic? Fantastic.”

Other bags have more subtle, altruistic sayings: “One World.”

I can almost imagine Bob Marley bags made out of hemp, or — and you know this is coming — some new durable designer bag called the “Gore-Tex Grocery Bag Elite SFX,” a waterproof marvel marketed to overachievers.


The problem, of course, will be that all these new bags will be E. coli magnets and made out of worse material than the thin plastic ones.

You do know that they make the heavier reusable bags out of those now-banned plastic bags, don’t you?

That may not be true but it could be.

All I know is we don’t pick up plastic bags on the beach during ZeroTrash Laguna. Very rarely. It’s mostly cigarette butts.

Here’s the deal: If this is really about environmentalism, it’s not the plastic bags we should worry about; it’s the single-use water bottles — by far. About 38 billion of these beloved plastic containers become landfill or litter in the U.S. every year, and they take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to disintegrate.

But why are we not banning those? Because it’s a mega multibillion-dollar industry

It’s much easier to ban flimsy bags that most people hate anyway.

The people who are really smiling right now are Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek Timber, International Paper Co. and the rest of the forest and pulp industry.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that Weyerhaeuser’s stock is up considerably since Laguna Beach banned plastic bags? I think not.

OK, maybe it has more to do with the increase in housing starts, but the point is the same: There’s a reason the game is not called “Rock, Plastic, Scissors.”

Pity the poor businessman in the movie “The Graduate,” telling Dustin Hoffman: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. … Plastics.”

That was 1967. Alas, it was a good run.

Oh wait, it’s not over. We still have a billion bottles of water purchased every week in the U.S.

I think we need to buy more bags to hold them.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at