Plastic thank-you bags have a special history in Chinatown. It’s changing.
As more cities restrict single-use plastic bags for environmental reasons, designers offer durable alternatives to a familiar icon.
In every one of my Chinese relatives’ homes when I was growing up in New York, there was a special drawer, cabinet, or sliver of closet dedicated to storing a precious commodity: the plastic bag. Because they were more often than not procured while shopping for groceries and other necessities in Manhattan Chinatown or Flushing, Queens, many of the bags appeared in shades of red, as the color signifies luck in our culture. These “thank-you bags” showed appreciation for a purchase, but they also served as a kind of portable good-luck charm. The collection of these single-use handouts has a particular, practical significance for me: my Chinese-American family’s thrifty, let’s-reuse-everything, no-waste immigrant ethic.
I live in California now, the first state