They used to be everywhere ... the very definition of ubiquitous. Now they are not quite so everywhere.

Those single-use plastic bags that stuff the environment generally — and waterways specifically — were "couldn't-do-without-them" items. But very slowly people are learning they can get by without the multi-purpose carry-all.

They are incredibly useful, but they've had a bad rap and the stores which once so freely dispensed them are seeing the light.

Read more: Mitre 10 the latest chain to stamp out single-use plastic bags across all New Zealand stores but Greenpeace not happy
Plastic - a useful material that can be a problem

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Countdown took them out of 10 supermarkets nationwide — including Whanganui — from Monday, and hardware/DIY emporium Mitre 10 will call time in July. Numerous other stores are following suit.

It makes sense — and not just environmentally. Nobody wants to be seen as the bad guy, feeding addicts with the fossil-fuelled drug of retail choice.

I must admit, I was caught with a couple of plastic bags the other week. I tried to sneak them back to the car but was spotted. The frowns, the disapproving looks ... the quizzical
expressions that questioned my commitment to the planet, and my mental health.

I was shamed as I skulked away. It was like being caught smoking in public.

But the question is: What to use instead?

This week Greenpeace, which knows a bit about these things, voiced its concern that tougher, stronger re-useable — but still plastic — bags were being offered by stores as replacement.

Countdown says its $1 re-useable bags have been tested for up to 150 shopping trips. And they will replace it for free when it wears out, so that may stop people chucking them away.

But Greenpeace notes it is still the arch-villain plastic that is circulating in the community and, perhaps, ultimately joining the great waste dump that even China doesn't want to know about.

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TV's Seven Sharp tackled the issue this week and came up with a shopping bag made of stone. It looked pretty good.

And there is always the sensible notion of keeping a couple of cloth bags in the car for the groceries.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has suggested our enviro-friendly Government should step in and point us in the right direction.

One thing's for sure — there is no going back.