Just the thing to advertise your hopelessly bourgeois pseudo-environmentalism with

Plastic bag hating is so in right now. As usual, I was way too ahead of the times to get excited about the new vogue by the time it got trendy. But, also as usual, late arrivals to the party more than make up for their tardiness with excessive enthusiasm. While I contently stuff my groceries in a well worn free bag promoting an outdated (and failed) local bond measure, the fashionable are busy one-upping one another’s selection of shopping totes.

The New York Times dining section today has an article about limited edition reusable bags being sold at Whole Foods. The bags, by British designer Anya Hindmarch, sell for $15 and sales are limited to three bags per customer. The bags have proved so popular that the line to buy them caused a near-riot in Taiwan and re-sell on eBay for as much as $300.

The designer seems to share some of my reservations about turning environmental responsibility into a style statement, but argues that the payoff is worth any initial feelings of distaste.

“To create awareness you have to create scarcity by producing a limited edition,” she said. “I hate the idea of making the environment trendy, but you need to make it cool and then it becomes a habit.”

Later in the story we discover that, much like our Councilmembers, her devotion only stretches so far.

Even so, Ms. Hindmarch hasn’t given up plastic bags entirely. “There’s no way I’m going to put a smelly fish in a canvas bag,” she said.

I noted in a previous post about Oakland’s plastic bag ban how poorly thought out the ordinance was. It will do little to help the environment or reduce fossil fuel consumption, and may even have the opposite effect, since the absence of a public education campaign encouraging reusable bags is likely to simply force shoppers to switch to far more damaging paper bags.

But the actual impacts of legislation are simply not of interest to our officials. As they proved during the committee hearing, this isn’t about the environment or oil consumption at all. It is simply about “making a statement” and getting a little good press for Oakland for being a “sustainable city.” One staffer proudly posted a picture of her new grocery-filled reusable bags piled in the back seat of her car to a public photo-sharing website, accompanied by a caption and several comments crowing about her great victory for the environment (and bitching about a constituent who called to voice his concerns with the proposal).

The ordinance had its final hearing and was passed into law by the Oakland City Council last night, but not without one major revision. The original law, introduced by Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan, banned all point of sale plastic bags, but in the final version, restaurants are still permitted to use them for take-out. Apparently someone on the Council realized that something in the law might actually inconvenience them someday, and had to remedy that.

Be good to the environment, people. But if doing so might make it a little bit harder for you to pick up dinner on the way home, force you to lug heavy groceries around on alternative transportation, or (God forbid!) deal with smelly fish, don’t bother. After all, it’s all about appearances anyway.


P.S. I’m writing for Novometro again. As some readers pointed out, the city business round-ups did not quite match the tone of the rest of the blog. This week’s story covers new newsrack regulations, our own World Trade Center, and Jean Quan’s citywide register of big trees.

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