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What's next for the bring-your-own-bag fad?

Bans on plastic bags are forcing shoppers to find other ways to carry goods and gadgets home.

Are reusable shopping bags a thing of the future?
Are reusable shopping bags a thing of the future?
Paper Nor Plastic

Since San Francisco is banning petroleum-based, throwaway plastic bags at store checkout counters, I've wondered if clean-tech companies would rush to supply shops with a bioplastic, biodegradable, two-handle alternative. Other plasticky disposables, like forks at organic takeout eateries, are made from corn, potatoes, and other crops these days.

Alas, things fall apart, especially biodegradable bags holding anything biological (steer clear of my kitchen compost bin). There are plenty of compostable baggies for sandwiches, pooper scoopers, or yard waste. Yet after calling a bunch of bioplastic bag makers, I found that compost-ready bags in shopping-bag sizes don't seem to exist.

Instead, reusable, designer shopping totes are on the rise. Purses for pooches? So 2005. This summer, Anya Hindmarch's $15 "I'm Not a Plastic Bag" nearly caused riots when released in Hong Kong, and it's already sold out on our shores. Bids on eBay are up to $400 for the nonorganic cotton, made-in-China handbag. If your shoulders can bear more than $900, then check out chi-chi silk or canvas options from Hermes or Stella McCartney. Slaves to style can find cheaper-but-hip hemp and other options if too humbled by the $2 reusable bags at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.

Ideally, people will bring these bags beyond the supermarket, like to electronics megastores when picking up cameras, printer cartridges, and other small stuff. Now what we need next is better packaging for gadgets. What's with those hermetically-sealed blister packs that have sent so many people to emergency rooms? You shouldn't need a chainsaw to pry open the stiff plastic encasement of an MP3 player or a set of headphones. At least some vendors, like Dell, are starting to package their electronics more gently. And innovative designers are increasingly using recycled rubber tires, corrugated cardboard, and fabric as well as organic fibers to create more eco-friendly cases for laptops, iPods, cameras and more.