Plastic bags can be handy when it rains, but that does not outweigh their negative effects on the environment.
I suggest that there is a middle ground that would, and I believe already is, reducing the use of plastic bags. First, checkout counters should have signs saying “plastic upon request” and paper should be the norm. Second, a variety of different attractive reusable bags should be available for a nominal fee as you check out. You’d think they all would be doing it already as it saves the stores money if they don’t have to provide bags. I already see many other shoppers who bring their own cloth bags, as I usually do. Third, each plastic bag could be charged at a nickel each.
Many of the above measures are already in place in Los Angeles, and I’m used to bringing my own bags there. They can be folded and put into one convenient package and the handles make them easy to carry.
Regarding the plastic vs. paper question: The so-called advantages of plastic bags put forth by the industry are nothing but industry propaganda and are not valid in real life. The only thing I’ve ever found them useful for was when we had a dog — picking up dog poop, but that can be done by other things, including sheets of newspaper and small paper lunch bags. Canvas tote bags are really the only way to go. Too bad more people don’t use them.