Whether we like it or not, this is the one planet we have. There is no Plan B. Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si (“Praised Be”) on the Environment asks us to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.
As with most things now jeopardising the balance of natural environments, plastic is not in itself evil. It is malleable and therefore versatile, cheap to produce at scale, and generally impervious to leakage.
Modernity is unimaginable without the products that can be made from plastic. Its synthetic (or semi-synthetic) polymer material is found in every room in the house, as well as in offices and commercial spaces.
For people in poorer parts of the world, the plastic option is often more affordable than ceramic, wood or steel.
But the ready convenience of plastic has left us in a stupor, manufacturing and disposing products at much faster rates than compounds can break down. This includes inexplicably over-packaging things like fresh fruit, toys and electrical appliances.
An alarming portion of this waste finds its way into our waterways. In 2010 alone, eight million tons of plastic went into the sea. Scientists expect plastic pollution in our oceans to treble from 2015 levels in 2025.
It goes without saying that the degradation of marine environments poses a threat to creatures in them, and by extension to humans who make a living and take food from there.
This is the backdrop to the ban on disposable plastic bags now in place in major Australian supermarkets and some retailers. It is no secret that this transition was coming.
South Australia, Canberra, the Northern Territory and Tasmania banned these bags in quick succession from 2009. Victoria plans to do so by the end of this year. Aldi and Bunnings customers have been coping without free plastic bags for years.
Around 40 countries have also introduced a ban on single-use shopping bags or imposed levies. It is not some radical scheme devised overnight.
Yet it has been met with 'bag rage' in recent weeks as the policy was rolled out at Coles and Woolworths. Checkout staff have been abused; customers have taken to pilfering baskets and trolleys rather than purchasing a reusable bag. Conservative commentators have weighed in on how stupid it all is.
We can speculate on the reasons for this resistance, much of which boils down to human nature. We don't like change. We don't like being told what to do and being unable to refuse. We don't like having to make an effort or think about alternatives and solutions.
For those suspicious of fads, the ban against plastic bags would certainly seem like one, and perhaps it is reasonable to wonder about benefits.
But at the heart of it, being mad about this particular inconvenience is about refusing to accept one's part in improving the collective lot. Whether we like it or not, this is the one planet we have. There is no Plan B.
The logic that what does not get used is not then disposed — to find its way into the bellies of hapless turtles and whales — is simple enough. It is six billion plastic bags less per year that won't end up in landfill, rivers and oceans.
If personal preference for free, convenient plastic bags were to trump the prospect of curbing environmental damage, we can look to a really rubbish future.
Fortunately, the switch from plastic bags seems to be only part of a growing awareness, not just about waste but our general attitudes to consumption.
The optimistic view is that most people want to do the right thing and are only looking to be validated, through a combination of disincentives, social rewards and moral argument.
In a time when environmental challenges can feel so overwhelming — even paralysing — reorganising behaviour around reusable shopping bags is a rare, concrete thing that people can do in their daily life. It does not make sense to begrudge them this.
There are also grassroots groups encouraging modest habits like taking reusable cups to the barista, declining straws at bars and restaurants, packing washable cutlery, and offering a non-disposable container for takeaway food.
Whether we participate in shifts like this or not, those who do are responding to the state of a shared environment, which means that all of us ultimately benefit. The question then is not whether we can be bothered, but how dare we not?
Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.