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A million bags


Fat Guy
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We can discuss paper v. plastic until we're blue in the face, however it seems to me there's a much more significant solid waste disposal problem at the supermarket: using a million bags.

I've been traveling in the US South for about a week, and every time I go to the grocery store I'm amazed at how many bags are used to pack my groceries. Sometimes just one item -- and not a big one -- is placed in a bag by the cashier or bagger. Other times the cutoff seems totally random: I have eight yogurts, seven go in one bag, the eighth goes in a new bag. In all cases, there's room in any given bag for three times as much stuff as has been placed in the bag.

Not to pick on the South specifically, this seems to happen at suburban supermarkets all over North America. It doesn't seem to be a problem in New York City, where I live, and I imagine that's because people in walkable cities often walk with their groceries -- so they're not going to accept the million-bags approach. Maybe people who shop by car just don't care?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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FG~

You have just hit on one of my biggest pet peeves ! Almost always, I ask the baggers to put things in as few bags as possible and get looked as if I'm some sort of Commie subversive .

Yesterday I bought three things...two went into the 1st bag and as she reached for the 2nd I said, "Please , the fewer bags the better. Just put it in here with the others."

She did and then attempted to DOUBLE BAG IT !! :blink::huh:

It makes me crazy. I have to say that when I go to Trader Joe's about 85% of those entering have their own bags, and there is a sign on the door that says, "Did you remember your bags?"

I need to make more of an effort to bring my own bags to the regular grocery store.

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This is a pet peeve of mine as well.

I own about 6 different reusable bags, but occasionally, I make an unplanned stop at the store, and I use their plastic bags (which I recycle as garbage bags).

I remember just a few years ago, bringing your own bags into a store made the cashier and bagger look at you like you were crazy/annoying.

It's far more accepted now, but I still think we and the grocery stores can do far more than we currently do.

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Often, for me, how things are bagged depends on the customer requests. Some of mine insist on everything being double bagged -- even if the contents of the bag only weigh a couple of pounds. Others tell me exactly how they want the items split up. Rarely am I allowed to use my own judgement.

When I'm left to my own devices, I try to use common sense, keeping frozen items together, keeping the weighty items split evenly and filing the bags with lighter items, etc. If somebody is buying one or two items I'll always ask if they want it bagged before doing so. But 95% or more of my costumers drive right up to the front door and very few have to worry about walking anywhere with their stuff.

We've been trying to figure out how to do away with plastic bags. We'd like to switch to reusable bags, but the large chains sell their reusable bags for 99 cents, and being a small, independent shop we can't buy them in the volumes necessary to get them at such a low cost.

Edited to make things clearer.

Edited by Pam R (log)
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The reason is that the bags are thin and any sharp edge will poke right through. The sackers are probably being told not to load them too heavily. I usually try to sack my own groceries since it was one of my first jobs and I was taught how to do it with paper bags. When someone does it for me I just re-arrange it when I get to the car. The spare bags get re-purposed. UV light breaks them down quickly so they are not as harmful as other plastics.

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I wonder if sometimes it has to do with the local shoppers - in my town there's one grocery market that has a high elderly clientele. They want a ton of bags, or they want a double bag - paper and then put the paper bag in a plastic bag. Some of them are walking next door to the apartment complex but many are still in their own cars or use the courtesy vans from the retirement communities they live in. So I bet it is easier to bag every customer's order the same way than to ask each one in turn. I also notice that there's no rhyme or reason when the bagger is a teenager - the ice cream goes in with the bread :wacko: and even if I have loaded the conveyor with all the cold foods/frozen/dry/etc in groups, they get mixed up when bagged. That drives me nuts.

Not a quarter mile down the road is a Whole Foods who has done away with plastic bags completely. I don't mind them using two or even three paper bags because I use the paper bags for newspaper recycyling.

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We can discuss paper v. plastic until we're blue in the face, however it seems to me there's a much more significant solid waste disposal problem at the supermarket: using a million bags.

I've been traveling in the US South for about a week, and every time I go to the grocery store I'm amazed at how many bags are used to pack my groceries. Sometimes just one item -- and not a big one -- is placed in a bag by the cashier or bagger. Other times the cutoff seems totally random: I have eight yogurts, seven go in one bag, the eighth goes in a new bag. In all cases, there's room in any given bag for three times as much stuff as has been placed in the bag.

Not to pick on the South specifically, this seems to happen at suburban supermarkets all over North America. It doesn't seem to be a problem in New York City, where I live, and I imagine that's because people in walkable cities often walk with their groceries -- so they're not going to accept the million-bags approach. Maybe people who shop by car just don't care?

There was a time when you were stealing extra bags. What gives? :laugh:

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I feel truly guilty about this issue: I try hard and don't measure up. Every time I read or hear a news story about how plastic bags are blanketing our oceans and messing with the environment my heart drops.

And I still can't get it together! I have a super eGullet tote, three cloth grocery bags I've bought here and in Canada, a string bag I bought in France, and another I crocheted myself. There's also an Ikea bag that could hold a whole goat. My heart's in the right place. Why the heck can't I remember to put the bags back in the car?

I remembered a couple of weeks ago and got a stare from the adolescent bagger. I told him: "You can fit this into these two bags. You may put a plastic bag around the chicken and that's it." He managed. I think I saved the planet from at least eight plastic bags.

At my local supermercado, Italian greengrocer and TJ's I just ask that everything be packed in the cardboard carton from a box of wine or Swiss Chard. It's amazing how much can fit into a cardboard box. And of course, when I unpack at home my cat has a box to sit in.

It's raining. I don't care. I'm going to take my shopping bags to the car.

Edited to add: My father, aged 81, has no problem remembering to put his cloth bags back in the trunk. At his grocery store in Ottawa, I noticed that 75% of the customers toted their own totes -- maybe it's a Canadian thing. Most peeps, from stoners to civil servants to Goldsters gave the checkout folks a cloth bag. It's in a metropolitan walk/bike area, and I think that the handles on cloth backs are way more comfortable than those on supermarket plastic bags.

Margaret McArthur

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I feel truly guilty about this issue: I try hard and don't measure up. Every time I read or hear a news story about how plastic bags are blanketing our oceans and messing with the environment my heart drops.

And I still can't get it together! I have a super eGullet tote, three cloth grocery bags I've bought here and in Canada, a string bag I bought in France, and another I crocheted myself. There's also an Ikea bag that could hold a whole goat. My heart's in the right place. Why the heck can't I remember to put the bags back in the car?

I remembered a couple of weeks ago and got a stare from the adolescent bagger. I told him: "You can fit this into these two bags. You may put a plastic bag around the chicken and that's it." He managed. I think I saved the planet from at least eight plastic bags.

At my local supermercado, Italian greengrocer and TJ's I just ask that everything be packed in the cardboard carton from a box of wine or Swiss Chard. It's amazing how much can fit into a cardboard box. And of course, when I unpack at home my cat has a box to sit in.

It's raining. I don't care. I'm going to take my shopping bags to the car.

Edited to add: My father, aged 81,  has no problem remembering to put his cloth bags back in the trunk. At his grocery store in Ottawa, I noticed that 75% of the customers toted their own totes -- maybe it's a Canadian thing. Most peeps, from stoners to civil servants to Goldsters gave the checkout folks a cloth bag.  It's in a metropolitan walk/bike area, and I think that the handles on cloth backs are way more comfortable than those on supermarket plastic bags.

Since I don't have a car, I carry my reusables with me the whole way to the store. With that and the fact that I often do my grocery shopping on the way home, I've managed to start having some with me at all times. I have a few large canvas bags that I used a lot in Rochester (where I'd take them to the public market and Wegman's) which I've since stopped using regularly, though they are the most comfortable for carrying large loads of groceries. They're really just too big to fold into my bag and leave there, so I only bring them when I have BIG shopping plans.

SOOOO, for everyday use I've got 3 folding bags. I aim to have reusable bags that can fold in or fasten on themselves, so they stay compact in my bag and are pretty much out of the way, because otherwise I'd stop carrying them. The ones I have now are from 2 Japanese makers, but next time I have to think about buying some I'll probably buy some from Envirosax, which has 5-bag sets (in the graphic series) that have their own pouch.

Sometimes, I admit, I'm too lazy to pull the reusables out. It's not that big a deal, since I end up reusing them for trash (like other people). One thing I can't seem to reduce, though, are vegetable bags. If I've got only one or 2 things I don't use them, but it's hard to go up to pay with 5 apples rolling around in the basket. I haven't even bothered attempting this, because I don't want to make the people angry at my local market... it's a small place and I'd have to go completely out of my way if my wayward free-range produce caused problems. It was worse when I was in Rochester at the public market (still haven't been to the Greenmarket here)... they'd put whatever you selected into a shopping bag alone, without even thinking, so even with the canvas bag I'd come home with 8 plastic bags.

What bothers me, as someone in NY where reusable bags are a little more common, is that I've gotten an attitude from some store clerks HERE, of all places, when I want to use my cloth bags (particularly not-so-"green" stores). You'd think they'd be encouraged to help customers use them, since they result in lower operating costs for the store, no?? YES, I understand that you're pissy because every other customer has been tap-dancing on your last nerve, but for God's sake, could you not act like me and my cloth bags are stomping on your toes?

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If I don't take my bags DIRECTLY BACK TOP THE CAR as soon as I unload them, I forget them. They just have to live in the car, end of story.

My aunt told me in her local they are charging now for plastic bags. 25p or something.

“Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”
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Often, for me, how things are bagged depends on the customer requests. Some of mine insist on everything being double bagged -- even if the contents of the bag only weigh a couple of pounds.  Others tell me exactly how they want the items split up.  Rarely am I allowed to use my own judgement.

When I'm left to my own devices, I try to use common sense, keeping frozen items together, keeping the weighty items split evenly and filing the bags with lighter items, etc.  If somebody is buying one or two items I'll always ask if they want it bagged before doing so.  But 95% or more of my costumers drive right up to the front door and very few have to worry about walking anywhere with their stuff.

We've been trying to figure out how to do away with plastic bags.  We'd like to switch to reusable bags, but the large chains sell their reusable bags for 99 cents, and being a small, independent shop we can't buy them in the volumes necessary to get them at such a low cost.

Edited to make things clearer.

Your bagging system totally makes sense. What if you put up a sign that let people know bringing other bags from the big chains in was o.k.? Granted you don't get the advertising value, but you lose the plastic bag.

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. . .

What bothers me, as someone in NY where reusable bags are a little more common, is that I've gotten an attitude from some store clerks HERE, of all places, when I want to use my cloth bags (particularly not-so-"green" stores). You'd think they'd be encouraged to help customers use them, since they result in lower operating costs for the store, no?? YES, I understand that you're pissy because every other customer has been tap-dancing on your last nerve, but for God's sake, could you not act like me and my cloth bags are stomping on your toes?

But they might also be pissy because loading fabric bags is, believe it or not, much harder on the clerks! I discussed this with a clerk in my local supermarket and she pointed out that their whole system is designed for the plastic bags to hang at just the right height for easy packing. Canvas and other bags brought from home simply will not fit this system and the clerk is now trying to load bags at a very uncomfortable height and it becomes very tiring! So that's the other side of the story.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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I use the self checkout a lot of times just so I can bag it myself, or I'll usually bag the groceries myself in the regular lane.

Also, at my local Earthfare you can request a "recycled bag" which is a bag that has been used over and over and brought back. Kinda cool. You don't have to recycle bags, you just reuse them.

I think the reason they use so many bags is cross contamination has them spooked, and they might think it's better to use an extra bag instead of having something bust.

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I wish grocers charged per bag is all I can say ...I know stores in Canada do and it takes a min for you to think when they ask "how many bags do you need?"

We do large grocery shopping on the millitary bases near by where the baggers work for tips only, no wages. It is great exercise and the money is good ..during the week it is a lot of retired folks doing the bagging and most of them realize the bigger tips go to the good packers (like no coconut on top of the eggs) ...not the number of the bags but the way they are packed...they are happy to pack your bring along bags as well ..on the weekend however ..bless their hearts it is all really young kids who think that the number of bags increase the tips ...so they will put single items in bags and use an insane number if you don't stop them!

I have actually thought about being a bagger when I retire from nursing :smile:

I used cloth bags for years but got complacent ..we do recycle all our bags after reusing them and feel guilty for not using the cloth ones ..so I guess to ease my guilt I should gather them all up from all over the house and toss them in the trunk again

on the same note we never even take bags for single items when we shop ..there is a box in the back of my car that I just toss odds and ends of my wandering shopping into and then when I get home take the box in the house ...also I dont bag produce that does not "need" a bag ..I will bag habaneros ..string beans ..mushrooms ..but never bag things like jicama, bananas, anything I buy just a few of

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

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When we redid our kitchen and got our new trash can, we discovered that we'd actually have to buy bags to fit it. (This is not a bad thing, as our plastic grocery bags invariably have a hole or two in the bottom, so we'd started doubling or tripling them as insurance against drippy leaks. Bags made for the purpose are of better quality.) The problem: we then started to have issues with plastic grocery bags coming out our ears!

Last summer, we got a couple of bags and kept them in the car. As soon as they get unloaded from a shopping trip, they either go back in the car immediately, or they get put somewhere that you'll have to trip over them on your way to the car. Our supply of plastic bags is no longer increasing prodigiously, although occasionally we'll acquire a few. The bags we have still see use as liners for the garbage cans in bathrooms, the container into which we clean the cats' litter box, and in the kitchen as a garbage bag on the counter during meal prep.

It's getting easier, the more we do it. But this summer, we're hoping to do much of our shopping on bicycles. If it won't fit in our panniers, we can't get it that day!

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

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And here I thought it was only me. It's definitely not a southern U.S. thing. I can't tell you the number of stores in the Akron / Cleveland area that do this, too. I often tell the cashier/bagger to "pack them heavy". After giving me quizzical looks, they do, but this usually results in them double-bagging everything.

On a somewhat related note, bagging as an art form seems to have been lost. My first job in high school was as a bagger and there was definitely an art to it -- don't pack too many cans in one bag, keep the cool/frozen stuff together, keep the perishables away from the chemicals. The last one, especially, seems to be lost on current baggers. I can't even begin to count how many times I've had to stop someone from packing the liquid drano in the same bag as my bread.

The other bagging pet peeve I have is with liquor. Many of the larger size bottles now come in plastic bottles. I can understand in the "old days" when you bought several glass bottles, each was inserted into a paper sleeve to protect it from clanking against the other glass bottles in the same bag. Why on earth does my plastic bottle of vodka need a paper bag to protect itself against the plastic 2-Liter sitting next to it?

As much as I try and reuse the plastic bags for other things (garbage, etc.), I just accumulate them faster than I can use them. So much for trying to be more green.

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One thing I can't seem to reduce, though, are vegetable bags. If I've got only one or 2 things I don't use them, but it's hard to go up to pay with 5 apples rolling around in the basket. I haven't even  bothered attempting this, because I don't want to make the people angry at my local market... it's a small place and I'd have to go completely out of my way if my wayward free-range produce caused problems.

I save those & use them to wrap up leftover Chinese food containers to keep them from stinking up the icebox. I'm slowly accumulating more than I use up, though.

Here in Jersey the bagging practices vary widely, even within the same store. At my local Stop & Shop, some of the clerks are very methodical & efficient while others take the excessive-bags approach that started this thread. I guess they need better management.

What also gets me is when I stop at a deli for just one or two items & they automatically want to bag it. I always stop them. I've usually got a bag, often resuable, in the car already. I don't need an extra bag just to carry the item(s) a dozen paces out the door.

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A lot of Grocery stores in Toronto charge $0.05 per bag which does seem to help reduce usage. In Ireland they charge something like $0.30 per bag and have reduced plastic bag usage by more than 90%.

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I have net shopping bags, but almost never remember them when I go to the grocery. I have even tried hanging them on the door knob to remind me.

Part of the problem is that I shop at lunch time and on the way home from work. I would have to remember ahead of time to bring the bags with me on the bus to work.

Because I often walk several blocks home from my local stores, I appreciate the "security" of double bagging. Sometimes, though, the clerks even triple bag for no apparent reason.

Some smaller, non-food stores have started doing the opposite ... they will ask if I need a bag. Usually I don't.

BB

Food is all about history and geography.

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We reuse our bags for pet waste - and to be honest, grab extras cause we run out. I have looked into "biodegradable" bags for pet waste - and would be more than willing to buy them if someone can convince me that they will degrade in a landfill (since I've heard complaints that they really don't).

And yes, packing groceries is beyond a lost art. I was at Whole Foods of all places, where I guess I would expect people to know how to bag groceries (I guess since I'm paying so much more, I expect better service too) and the woman put my EGGS in with TWO 28oz CANS of tomatoes. Really? Do you really not know better???

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We've got reusable bags, but not nearly enough of them. We do reuse the plastic bags as garbage bags and with four kids, we have the ubiquitous, "paper sack craft crap," but we're not as good as we could be and that bothers me. It only takes a moment of forethought on my part. Dagnabbit.

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Has anyone else noticed the problem I alluded to in my previous post: little holes in the bottom of the plastic bags? I would have been just as happy to continue to accumulate, and use, the zillions of bags but the holes in the bottom make them useless for many tasks.

Come to think of it, the holes might be the reason for using so many of them: do they compromise the strength of the bag?

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Has anyone else noticed the problem I alluded to in my previous post: little holes in the bottom of the plastic bags? I would have been just as happy to continue to accumulate, and use, the zillions of bags but the holes in the bottom make them useless for many tasks.

Come to think of it, the holes might be the reason for using so many of them: do they compromise the strength of the bag?

MelissaH

This is what finally got me to rely full time on cloth bags. I use the acme bags that fold into their own pouch and toss them into my work bag since most of my shopping is on my way home. I used to use them only part of the time because I would re-use the grocery bags as plastic bags. I stopped when I went through my stash of about 20 and couldn't find a single one without a hole.

As a backup, I toss all the conference tote bags everyone seems to give out in my trunk.

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