"Paper or plastic?" is no longer a question in SF. Plastic bags have been banned. Paper bags are an option as long as the customer will pay $0.10 per bag. One SF customer claims, "It's not about control, it's about reminding us what's good for us." But when "reminders" involve bans and penalties, it comes to the same thing.
Sure, $0.10 is pretty inconsequential, but it's the very notion that gets me--trying to push people around even regarding something as trivial as buying and bringing reusable bags for their groceries. I feel the same way about San Francisco's 2011 ban on free Happy Meal toys, New York's ban on super-sized sodas, and Missouri's recent (failed) attempt to raise taxes on cigarettes.
And here's the thing: I think smoking (that is, being a smoker, as opposed to having a cigarette every couple of weeks or something) is idiotic, because it's so bad for you. Similarly, I think drinking lots of soda or eating lots of junk food is foolish (as opposed to having a treat every now and then). Over one third of American adults are obese and the rate is only rising. So I do see the reasoning behind a lot of these efforts. But I just think people should be free to make idiotic choices--if we're only free to make the choices everyone else agrees with, it's not all that free.
Aside: I'm not saying we're on the verge of some fascist dictatorship or anything. We are obviously still very free compared to many people in the world, and I appreciate that. But I don't like the mentality behind the government pushing people around "for the greater good." It makes me feel indignant, and very weary.
The SF paper bag situation annoys me more than the other examples, though. It's one thing to try to curb the obesity epidemic or decrease cancer rates; again, I don't agree with these methods but I see why other people think it's necessary. But bossing people around over their use of paper products? That's even weaker. From what I understand, paper decomposes relatively easily, and it doesn't look like we're on the verge of running out of trees.