One of the earth-friendly changes that we were happy to see hit the mainstream in 2008 was the use of reusable tote bags. Another nail in the coffin of the ubiquitous plastic bag was pounded in by Anya Hindmarch, who made it fashionable with her I'm Not a Plastic Bag tote. They were so fashionable, in fact, that almost 80,000 of the bags were sold in a single day, and thereafter were nearly impossible to obtain.

Now, at year's end, Anya was honored in the Queen's year-end awards. The Queen Mum bestowed upon Anya a MBE for the hit eco-friendly bag design. These awards are when the Queen bestows honorary knighthoods to Sirs and Dames such as Paul McCartney and Elton John, although Anya's honor is in a classification below knight: MBE stands for Member. 

Said Anya, an accessories designer based in Wandsworth, "I am lucky enough to have a career in fashion that has led to involvement in many other fields such as the environment. The bag's popularity was unbelievable and the ramifications of it are still being felt."

Some of those ramifications, which may not be directly influenced by Anya but were probably boosted by her bag's popularity:  This year, shopping totes made from recycled plastic bottles and sustainable materials have sprung up for sale at the checkout lines of Whole Foods (naturally) as well as less likely outlets like Target, Super Stop and Shop, HEB stores, and independent markets. Wal-Mart has pledged to reduce its plastic bag output by one-third by 2013, and recycled-bottle totes have even been spotted by this blogger being handed out for free at a farmers' market.

Also in the past year, Whole Foods phased out its plastic bags in favor of recyclable paper ones (on Earth Day), and the offending petroleum-based bags are banned in all major chain supermarkets and pharmacies in San Francisco. Ireland was ahead of the game, introducing a tax in 2002 on plastic bags and reduced usage of new bags by more than 90 percent. And starting on Earth Day this year, Canadian chains run by the Loblaw company, such as The Real Canadian Superstore, will discontinue their free plastic bags, charging five cents per bag for those who don't bring their own. And those are just a few examples of the phenomenon; it looks like the trend is unstoppable. Now in the new year we just have to figure out what to do with the millions of bags currently clogging up landfills.

Story by Colleen Kane. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in January 2009.

Copyright Environ Press 2009

Anya Hindmarch's year of not plastic bags
Paper or plastic? Neither. Reusable bags aren't wasteful and ARE stylish.