Just make sure they're not plastic.

San Francisco, West Coast home to the Beats, epicenter of the hippie menace, hometown to Dirty Harry Callahan and the Full House commune, and long the self-styled Ground Zero of ribald, alternative lifestyles in America, has banned conventional plastic bags in grocery stores. The AP reports:

The law, passed by a 10-1 vote, requires large markets and drug stores to give customers only a choice among bags made of paper that can be recycled, plastic that breaks down easily enough to be made into compost, or reusable cloth.

San Francisco supervisors and supporters said that by banning the petroleum-based sacks, blamed for littering streets and choking marine life, the measure would go a long way toward helping the city earn its green stripes....

The 50 grocery stores that would be most affected by the law argued that the ban was not reasonable because plastic bags made of corn byproducts are a relatively new, expensive and untested product. Some said they might offer only paper bags at checkout.

...Craig Noble, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it would be disappointing if grocers rejected the biodegradable plastic bag option, since more trees would have to be cut down if paper bag use increases....

Got that? A green ordiance may increase the use of paper bags!

But can you imagine? A plastic bag ban in a major city! What's next? Smoking? Trans fat? Listening to music while crossing the street? And just how long will it be until we realize that corn kills?

Full story here.

Reason readers might have thought that San Franciscans--named after one of the great empathizers in all of Catholic history--would have been too busy petitioning zoning boards to keep legal medical marijuana dispensaries out of their neighborhoods to have time with this inane restriction.

Update: One word: Dematerialization, which means that today's products--especially today's plastic products, routinely use much less material, resources, etc to produce than they did in the past. Between 1976 and 1990, for instance, the thickness of plastic "carrier bags" was reduced by one-third with no loss in strength (I assume progress has marched on since then, though I've got no current numbers). Something similar happened to plastic milk jugs. And to aluminum cans, etc.

At the same time, mandates to employ ostensibly "green-friendly" dictates can freeze such innovation in its tracks (surely one reason hybrid cars took so long to get started was California's mandate for zero-emission vehicles, which acted as a tax on carmakers and forced them to focus on undeveloped battery technology rather alternative methods of decreasing automobile emissions). Former president of Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes Reason Online and Reason magazine) Lynn Scarlett, now deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, wrote about dematerialization and its discontents here.