In Toronto, where I live, plastic shopping bags have been something of a political sore spot recently. A three-year-old by-law mandating a 5 cent charge for plastic bags was revoked effective July 1, 2012, and in the following November a decision by Toronto city council to ban single use plastic bags entirely by 2013 was reversed when it met with strenuous opposition from the Ontario Convenience Stores Association. While the latter political move really was probably too draconian and impractical, at least for the present, I agreed with the mandatory 5 cent charge bylaw and thought it worked well as an incentive to get people to use cloth shopping bags. When the by-law was originally enacted, plastic bags became a much less common sight overnight, and I especially liked that I, who had been already avoiding the used of plastic bags for years, no longer had to tell cashiers "No bag... no bag... no bag... I don't need that bag," before they heard me, because giving out plastic bags was so routine that it was an autopilot task for them. And it reduced Toronto's landfill and waste disposal costs. But our illustrious mayor, Rob Ford, didn't seem to think fiscal and environmental responsibility was a good reason to continue to impose a slight inconvenience on his voters. No, I didn't vote for him, thanks for asking.
Regardless of what the plastic bag status is in your locale, if you want to avoid the use of the plastic shopping bags but are discouraged by the ugliness of the environmentally friendly cloth bags out there, you can always knit your own. There are loads of patterns on the net for such bags, many of them free. I like the one above, from the blog Homebaked Online, which is partly based on a Knitty pattern.
This one from Worsted Knitt is a good basic pattern. These bags will be useful for other things besides grocery shopping, such as heading to the beach. These bags can also be made in your favourite colour, or in a set of different colours to coordinate with your outfits — I know I need more than one bag to bring home a week's groceries.
And if you don't like those I've featured here, check out the selection of string bags on Ravelry.