Cecil gives various arguments on both sides of the infamous “Paper or Plastic?” question, mentioning also that “Cloth” isn’t always the most convenient answer either. (Referring to the reusable canvas bags with which we are supposed to save the Earth these days.)
He doesn’t mention – and I’ve never seen anyone else mention either – that we can even more easily save the Earth by re-using those big brown paper grocery bags. Here is how I have been contributing to the salvation of the Earth:
(1) I collected a dozen or so of those paper bags. As per the stores’ requests, I don’t double them. But once I get them home, they are MINE to double as I please, which I do. Then I re-use them. Although I haven’t done any detailed scientific comparison, I’m pretty sure that a thusly doubled paper bag will last more than twice as long as a single bag. I get anywhere from ten to 30 re-uses of each doubled bag before they start falling apart.
(2) More recently (last year or so) I’ve switched back to using plastic bags, for a specific semi-Earth-saving (and money-saving) reason: They are just right to use as waste-basket liners. I think these are more ecological than the usual commercially available liners, being lighter and thinner as they are. Here in California, plastic bags supposedly became illegal last July, but that moratorium has been delayed, so they are still available.
So, when I first read that they would disappear (about a year before the original July deadline), I began collecting and hoarding them, with the intention of collecting a lifetime supply to use as waste-basket liners. I’m still collecting them. But as soon as plastic bags disappear, I’ll go back to using paper bags as described in (1).
Forget canvas bags. They are awkward to use, largely because they won’t stand upright while one tries to load stuff into them. And, as Cecil implies, you would need a bunch of them for a typical shopping expedition. When humans evolve to have three or more arms and hands (as shown here in the figure on the right), this will work better.