Saturday, June 13, 2009

Not My Bag Man

I decided to turn my thoughts this weekend to the containers with which we bring goods home from the store this weekend. There seems to be a growing furor over these containers, and I thought that it might be interesting to take a look back before looking forward.

Growing up as a kid in the far south suburbs of Chicago, we used to get our groceries bagged up in brown paper bags. It was all an interesting ballet performed by professional "baggers", who gracefully and magically always seemed to pick the right item from the belt to fit into this humble shipping container. With the square base of these paper shopping bags, it even often became possible to stack layers of cans or boxes inside them almost to the brim, and if the items were potentially too heavy for the strength of the paper, "double bagging" (nesting one paper bag inside of the other) quickly solved the problem. Once emptied, these containers remained useful as everything from temporary storage containers to tinder for the charcoal grill or fireplace.
The burgeoning environmental movement of the time reared its ugly head however, and insisted that we move away from containers made from paper. Paper after all, was made from trees and it was environmentally unsound for us to cut down trees simply to make paper bags. The fact that trees are both a biodegradable and a renewable resource did not seem to occur to these so-called planetary guardians, but that seemed beside the point. Paper bags must go!

Enter the plastic bag. Made of a recyclable plastic, this new container was to provide the ecologically friendly answer to grocery transport. Of course they didn't hold as much as the old paper standby, had greater weight restrictions, and were nearly impossible to sensibly place items in; but according to the experts they were more environmentally friendly, so we simply adjusted. Those of us with some level of social consciousness even faithfully stored the empty bags and took them back to the grocery store so that they could in fact be recycled. This was easy, since unlike their paper predecessors they were useless beyond their originally intended purpose, so parting with them was not a problem.

Never content with the sacrifice made by their fellow man in service of Mother Nature, the environmental movement reared its ugly head again however. This time they demanded that we do away with the plastic bags. It seems that not every human being was as environmentally conscious as is necessary, and many of the recyclable bags were in fact not being recycled. In addition, plastic bags were made from plastic! Plastic of course is a petroleum product (oil), and everything made of oil is evil in the environmental movement. Plastic bags must go!

The demand then came for us to switch from the free plastic bags that the store provided to cotton, canvas, or hemp bags that we would have to purchase and carry to the store with us when we shopped. We were told that the materials that these new Eco-friendly bags were made were bio-degradable and the bags themselves could be used over and over again, and for multiple purposes (you know, like paper).

News soon reached us however that these bags, though eco-friendly could be a health hazard. Carrying groceries like fresh fruits, vegetables, or even meats whose juices were leaking, would permit these new containers to become contaminated. Once contaminated, they could then transfer unhealthy bacteria either to any new foods placed into them, or directly to people using them through physical contact. Canvas bags must therefore go!

Jump to the Present...

The environmental movement is now saying that plastic bag manufacture should be banned because of the contamination of landfills, of life in the wild in general, and of the oceans as well as they break down and are consumed by sea life. So we can't use the plastic Eco-friendly bags, since in spite of their original designation, they are destroying the environment. We likewise can't use the canvas Eco-friendly bags unless we sterilize them like medical instruments or throw them away after every use (rather impractical after spending so much money for them). We further still can't use paper bags as they are the original bad guys in this whole process, with the guilt of millions of dead trees attached to them. Well, I guess we will just have to carry our groceries home by the armload or buy them by the handful.

Au contraire mon ami (that's French). It's time to ignore the eco-friendly, politically correct bullshit and do what we know is right. I don't know about you, but as for me, I'm going back to the paper bags. Not only were they always the best way to carry groceries, but I have a certain secondary use in mind as well. 

I plan to cut a couple of eye holes in one and wear it over my head in embarrassment for believing the eco-crap that the environmental movement has been handing out for all of those years. Never again!


Roland Hansen said...

Gee. it's a wonder the bagpipe industry hasn't been affected.

While using cloth bags for groceries and while thinking plastic bags are deplorable, I prefer the good ol' brown paper bag that has so many uses after having fulfilled the function of bringing home the groceries.

Haven't the anti brown baggers ever heard of reforestation?

Anonymous said...

The environmental movement was not responsible for the plastic bag. I'm pretty sure they were properly aghast at its outset. Grocery stores switched to plastic for the same reason that any company changes the way that it does business: profit. Plastic bags are cheaper than paper by an insane factor. Take double-bagging into account and it's exponential. They also take less space to store. It is for that reason alone that the plastic bag has become ubiquitous, replacing the tried and true paper bag. As a person who spent a significant amount of time bagging, though, paper is the far superior bag... even from an environmental standpoint.

Guess you'll have to wheel out the "greedy corporation" characature to blame some things on instead of "environmentalists".

Tim Higgins said...


I'm not sure I'm ready to accept your premise on faith, but you have certainly inspired me to further research on the subject.

I would find it difficult to believe however, that if the environmental movement had serious concerns about the 'recyclable' plastic bag, that we would have heard a great deal more about it.
Perhaps, like the rest of us poor schmucks, they too were fooled by the way that it was marketed.

(hmmm, this research may be more fun than I originally thought)

Tim Higgins said...


Livinginfits comment is pushing me to further research, but all that I remember from the day is the hue and cry about "the trees".

As for bagpipers, my assumption would be that no one would look to closely at the Scottish version, assuming that the same container as is used for Haggis predominates. The Irish bagpipes are likewise left untouched, since as you know, we are a rather pugnacious race, and no self-respecting Irishman would allow another man to handle his pipes.

Hooda Thunkit (a.k.a. Dave Zawodny) said...

(Part 1 of God only knows how many, thanks to Blogger's "ANAL" limits...)

Amigo Tim,

As I hearken back to my own youth, I remember that my very own mother used to always carefully fold and save each paper grocery bag, because of its many future uses. Not saying that she was a pack rat (because she wasn't), but having spent her own youth living through the Great Depression, she fully understood the meaning of “waste not, want not,” and would never think of throwing away such a pristine (and eminently useful) resource.

When other kids at school had their schoolbooks (which we had to pay for wear and tear on) left their books (GASP) uncovered, or covered in those “tacky” ad laden, flimsy, cheap printed paper covers which lasted maybe a month at best, my brothers and I had books covered with clean, neatly fitted brown paper covers cut out of the sides of some of those very same grocery bags. They were not only neat, clean and free of advertising, but we kept them that way except for having the subject name and our own name neatly printed (lettered) on them; they were as good at the end of the year as when the year started and we were never assessed any sort of fee/fine for wear and tear.

Otherwise, grocery bags were used as waste basket liners (reducing waste basket cleaning to a minimum) or for similar respectable reuse.

When the (useless) plastic grocery bags came into wide misuse, and paper was still an option we always chose the paper (actually, we still do in our household) going so far as to ask the bagger or bagging cashier to re-bag using paper, should they foolishly “forget” to ask. After a few times they eventually caught on.

Hooda Thunkit (a.k.a. Dave Zawodny) said...

(Part 2)

Now, as I was saying...

Now, our “beloved daily loco” carrier has asked us to save and return the paper plastic bags (just messing with your reading skills with that one), which we dutifully do a few times a year, yet we still find ourselves with an ample supply of those flimsy, cheesy plastic scourges that have no possible use except for the ones from Monette's which make excellent kitty liter containers (provided you use only the ones with only 3 holes (the top and 2 handles) in them ;-)

From the City of Toledo's Solid Waste's Recycling Web Page:

“Residents can place their milk jugs, plastic soda bottles, laundry detergent bottles, aluminum and steel cans, and all colors of glass bottles and jars into one container. (A trash can is fine with the recycle label affixed to a couple of places on the can.) Newspapers, magazines, and phone books can be placed in a separate container or placed in a brown paper bag. Junk mail, high grade paper (office paper, copier paper & notepad paper), boxboard (cereal boxes, dry food boxes & shoe boxes), corrugated containers (cardboard) in 2'x2'x1' bundles can be bundled or placed in a separate container.”

Notice no mention is made of plastic bags (or styrofoam, for that matter), so one can only assume that they don't even want them, so we chuck them in the garbage along with the unwanted styrofoam..., what's a mother to do (with the pathetic recycling effort that Toledo has?).

As for those allegedly “ecogreenietreehugger” bags made of synthetics, cotton, or perhaps hemp (say didn't we use to smok.... different weed, bred for a different purpose), potentially adorned (again) with crappy advertising on them, we have resisted the urge, due to the outrageous shape, size, advertising and above all the price. Ant, of course, the reasons that you mentioned, contamination and general uncleanliness...

Come to think of it, Sam's and Gordon's has the best idea, using the boxes the goods originally came to the store in to pack the groceries, etc. in when they leave the store. It cuts their costs, not having to supply bags of any kind and, except for the removed tops, minimizes their box disposal problems!

Touching on Amigo Roland's comments, he's right about the anti brown baggers when he says, “Haven't the anti brown baggers ever heard of reforestation?” As we all know, paper bags are made almost exclusively from trees planted to produce the suitable/correct fibers, which are new growth, hybrid trees that can very easily be replaced.
And as for livinginfits comments, Ditttos!


Amigos Roland and Tim,

Cats can be substituted for the current "bladder" in bagpipes, seeing as bagpipes already sound like screaming cats to those of "sound ear" to begin with...


Roland Hansen said...

Amigos Roland and Tim,
Cats can be substituted for the current "bladder" in bagpipes, seeing as bagpipes already sound like screaming cats to those of "sound ear" to begin with...


Tim Higgins said...

Perhaps Mi Amigos, HT has hit on a true gem here. While not being "more than one way to skin a cat", he may have hit on more than one reason to do so.

The primary reason of course is a little recipe better known as "Wor Sue Meow" (I like mine Szechwan).

Winky Twinky said...

Personally, I think you are dead-on about how the transformation came about...although I'm SURE cost effectiveness played a part as well.... My grandmother liked those brown bags to store the old newspapers in... I can't think of much more to use them for myself, frankly...and personally, much prefer the convenience of the plastic bag's HANDLES!! Now instead of carrying two paper bags falling apart from top to bottom, we have HANDLES!! And I can carry many at the same time. Actually, I did purchase a few of those canvas bags too... not because of environmental reasons... but you can fit more in them... I'm one of those idiots who always tries to carry the entire cartload in with one trip.... I don't know why... handles make it possible!! ;-D

Danny Clark said...

Fantastically written!

I remember the days when there was a big push to stop using paper bags. It had nothing to do with "corporate greed", it was being pushed through an environmental agenda because it was contributing to deforestation. I remember the looks that one would receive if you choose “incorrectly” when asked for paper or plastic.

However, there is a solution for plastic that is available today which induces the plastic to biodegrade through microbial activity once the plastic is placed in a microbial environment. These are not the oxo-degradable plastics that just fragment into smaller pieces.

If we take a look at the big picture once these biodegradable plastics are placed in a highly microbial environment such as a landfill they are converted into methane. The methane created by anaerobically decomposing material is used in many places as a source for clean inexpensive energy. It’s actually the most inexpensive form of green energy we can produce today.

This doesn’t fix all the problems but it is a great intermediate step.

Danny Clark

Tim Higgins said...


Thanks for the extra info. Your comment likewise inspires me to follow up on this subject. I guess trash and I simply go together.

When and if I discover more to add to the trash, you may trust that I will be posting it here.