Tom Ross: Catch a reusable SoCal wave |

Tom Ross: Catch a reusable SoCal wave

Tom Ross

— Now that the city of Los Angeles is close to banning plastic grocery bags in something like 2,700 stores, can designer reusable bags in the chichi boutiques of Rodeo Drive be far behind?

If I were running for president, which I'm not (yet), I would waste no time adding the potential economic stimulus of high-fashion grocery totes to my stump speech. It's all about jobs, baby.

To give you a better feel for what I'm talking about here, consider the Italian luxury goods maker Bottega Venetta. They make roomy women's lambskin totes for $2,780 and go up from there to include a chocolate ostrich bag for $11,000 and a possibly non-sustainable crocodile bag for $28,200. They're perfect for lugging home truffles and biscotti.

It's not until one translates those kinds of numbers over the growing need for millions – even billions – of grocery bags that one realizes we just might save the Euro by banning flimsy plastic bags.

Of course, only a handful of us could afford an $11,000 reusable ostrich grocery bag, but style points count, don't they?

Joking aside, pending an environmental impact statement, the action being contemplated by one of the largest cities in the nation is a potential tipping point in the long effort to remove this source of unsightly plastic pollution.

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You might recall that Yampa Valley Recycles worked hard in support of a bag ban in Steamboat in early autumn of 2011. It would have imposed a 20-cent fee on all disposable shopping bags, including paper and plastic, at large retailers in town.

Steamboat Today's editorial board countered in an opinion piece with a community- and market-driven alternative suggesting that Safeway, City Market and Walmart allow Yampa Valley Recycles to place reusable bag kiosks at the front of their stores. The kiosks could be stocked with thousands of reusable bags for shoppers to take freely. Shoppers also could drop reusable bags at the kiosks. Property management companies could collect bags left behind by visitors and return them to the kiosks or make them available to new guests. Local businesses could donate bags bearing their logos and advertising messages.

I still like that idea, but one wonders if the rest of the country is about to catch the wave originating in SoCal and if plastic bags are ultimately on the way out.

The Los Angeles Times reported May 24 that the L.A. City Council voted 13-1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months, leaving shoppers the options of purchasing paper bags at the grocery store for 10 cents apiece or bringing their own reusable bags. Other California cities including Long Beach, San Francisco and San Jose have already adopted similar ordinances, some with or without the paper option.

Advocates for the bag ban have estimated that Californians go through 12 billion plastic bags a year. And L.A., with nearly 4 million people, accounts for 2.7 billion on its own, according to USA Today. Neither article mentions how many plastic grocery bags it would take to stretch between the Earth and the moon.

However, the New York Times offered a helpful mini guide to some attractive grocery bags at prices from $32 to $495.

I have an assortment of cheap cloth bags that I use inconsistently because I often leave them in the car and I'm not reminded until I'm in the checkout line. I know, that's lame.

But I always bring my plastic bags back to the store for recycling, except for those rare occasions when I use one to pick up after someone else's pet.

The most effective reusable grocery bag in our household's arsenal is a large canvas beach tote from L.L. Bean that can handle a large number of canned goods without problem. The extra large bag, at $34.95, is rated to carry 500 pounds, which is more canned goods than I care to hump up the stairs to the kitchen. The bags come in plain, double-stitched canvas with trim and handles in nine fashion colors sure to please you.

They are made in Maine, which keeps Americans at work, while keeping flimsy plastic bags off the surfing beaches of L.A. and out of our barrow ditches and barbed wire fences in Colorado.

We can do this ourselves, or wait for the rest of the country to catch up with California.

Save the ostriches!

To reach Tom Ross, call (970) 871-4205 or email

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