It turns out the conspiracy theorists were right. The government is plotting to take away one of the freedoms we hold dearest.

Put away your ammo, Annie Oakley. I'm not talking about guns.

If an ordinance proposed by the West County Integrated Waste Management Authority is enacted, there will be no more plastic bags offered at retail stores in Richmond, San Pablo, Hercules, El Cerrito and Pinole.

Double-lock your doors, Martinez. The bag police are coming down Highway 4.

You knew this day was at hand. The Great Green Movement has been spreading like weeds in a vegetable garden. First, plastic bags were banned in San Francisco, then San Jose, Palo Alto and Alameda County.

Plastic bags are seen at the checkout at the Lucky supermarket in the Montclair district of Oakland, Calif. on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Alameda County is
Plastic bags are seen at the checkout at the Lucky supermarket in the Montclair district of Oakland, Calif. on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. Alameda County is banning the use of plastic bags at pharmacies and grocery stores beginning Jan. 1, 2013. Customers can buy paper bags for 10 cents or bring their own reusable bags. Lucky supermarkets are offering several options of reusable bags for sale. (Jane Tyska/Staff)

Now the environmentalists plan to leave their carbonless footprints in Contra Costa County. They did a nifty end run, circling north along Interstate 80 and avoiding the backup at the Caldecott Tunnel.

Once upon a time, plastic bags were regarded as a great leap forward from paper. They're nearly weightless, cheap and waterproof, meaning the bottoms don't fall out when wet. The problem is that littered plastic bags harm the ecosystem and, especially, marine life that get entangled or swallow them.

The goal is noble -- who wants to harm wildlife? -- but is a ban really the best solution? Plastic bags don't litter, people do. If the littering laws already on the books were enforced, we wouldn't need new ones. This is only going to hurt the law-abiding plastic-bag users. (This argument is starting to sound familiar.)

Yes, my tongue is in my cheek. Allow me to dislodge it.

There are serious arguments against plastic bags, which are non-biodegradable and distributed in the U.S. at a rate of 100 billion per year. Interestingly, though, there also are arguments against the reusable tote bags that environmentalists prefer.

Because they are generally made of cloth and rarely washed, reusable bags can be a magnet for germs and a breeding ground for bacteria. Every droplet of bloody juice that escapes plastic-wrapped meat packages turns your reusable bag into a Petri dish.

Citing studies at the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University, Huffingtonpost.com reported last week that E. coli infections and foodborne illnesses in San Francisco increased noticeably after implementation of the plastic bag ban.

Those findings mirrored studies done by the University of Arizona and the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in 2011. Then there's a more recent report from the University of Texas: "We find that both deaths and ER visits spiked as soon as the ban went into effect."

Two questions occur: 1) Don't these universities have more important things to do? 2) What's to be done about these filthy reusable bags?

Check with the chancellor about the first question. As for No. 2, soap and water is one answer. That's a nuisance, of course, and it means turning on the washing machine, using water and power, and then flushing detergent down the drain and spewing exhaust out the clothes dryer, which can't make environmentalists happy.

An alternative solution, included in the proposed ordinance, is for stores to make environmentally friendly bags available for consumers -- for a fee. Those bags are to be made of paper.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this where we came in?

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.