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The ethics of stealing bags (and containers)


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It's the same as pocketing a few sugar or Sweet and Low packs from the diner, or asking for extra ketchup packets (notice they're not left out anymore) at a fast food place when you don't really need them for that particular meal. It's not illegal. It's also not something that someone who cares about the potential longevity of their local store does. If you need the bags, or just want them, offer to buy a whole roll and be done with it.

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I stopped by the store this morning to ask if they pay for the bags. I didn't speak to an owner or authorized corporate representative -- just one of the section managers -- but what I was told is that they don't pay for bags. There's a company in Brooklyn, apparently, that sells bags to product manufacturers and prints advertisements on the bags. The product manufacturers offer these bags for free to the stores as a way to get their logos out there. The company is called Mediacy if anyone wants to do more research.

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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I stopped by the store this morning to ask if they pay for the bags. I didn't speak to an owner or authorized corporate representative -- just one of the section managers -- but what I was told is that they don't pay for bags. There's a company in Brooklyn, apparently, that sells bags to product manufacturers and prints advertisements on the bags. The product manufacturers offer these bags for free to the stores as a way to get their logos out there. The company is called Mediacy if anyone wants to do more research.

Which means you are stealing from Mediacy not the store. Does not seem to change the fundemental question.

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It's the same as pocketing a few sugar or Sweet and Low packs from the diner, or asking for extra ketchup packets (notice they're not left out anymore) at a fast food place when you don't really need them for that particular meal. It's not illegal. It's also not something that someone who cares about the potential longevity of their local store does. If you need the bags, or just want them, offer to buy a whole roll and be done with it.

It's also the kind of thing that makes stores put stuff behind the counter so you have to ask for it. You have to ask for packets of soy sauce at Mitsuwa now whereas a couple of years ago you didn't. It's called ruining it for the rest of us.

I also agree with the comment about setting an example for the kids. My aunt is the kind of person who always pilfers complimentary items. We laugh about it but we're embarrassed when we're with her and she does it. On one level it's kind of cute, like people who make "lemonade" by asking for a lot of lemons to go with their ice water. On another, it's somewhat shady, and sad. In one of her novels, Alison Lurie has a character go into an airplane bathroom on a transatlantic flight and put all the toiletries in her bag. It says everything about that character: she is someone who feels like life is shortchanging her and she needs to take something for herself at every possible opportunity. She does learn and grow by the end of the book, mostly by getting laid I think.

Edited to add: oh, taking stuff with advertising on it seems a little less bad to me, somehow. Still wouldn't want my kid to grow up in a house full of ketchup packets and airline silverware, though.

Edited by Tess (log)
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But ... they're free. Is it theft if they're free? You may not be taking them for their implied intended use, but it's certainly not theft if they're giving them away sans written instructions or guidelines, right? Maybe they think it's uncool, but theft? Not in my mind. You're not depriving them of something they intended to keep.

I think this is a good point.

I also think that it's unlikely to have a serious impact on his kid's behaviour, since in a few years, like most kids, he'll probably regard everything Steve does as wildly uncool, and to be avoided at all costs.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I think Fat Guy has killed 2 birds with one stone here....use those extra bags to hold all of that extra ice from your ice maker. Balancing petty thievery with resourcefulness wipes the slate clean in my eyes.

Wow...you have taken the words directly out of my mouth. This must be a KC coincidence.

Take a deep breath everyone. They are just produce bags. Personally, if I worked in the produce section of a grocery store and happened to witness someone thieving these precious bags, I would most likely just chuckle to myself. What a great topic this is.

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You can quibble fine points of the law til the cows come home but you put the answer in the question. You are asking ethics. Its not ethical. Its also rude aka greedy.

Do many of us do it? Probably.

They are not free <in any store I've ever shopped in>. The cost of them is factored into the price of the produce. <This appears not to be the case in FG's store>

If you really need the bags, why not just offer to buy an entire roll from the store. They had to pay to get them <except in NYC, it seems>. They do it as a service to the customer. They could go back to an older model of 'bring your own', and then you'd get to bag, take to check out, unbag to weigh, rebag.

<Ask the provider for an entire 'checkbook' of them. I go with the logic that reuse what you have, sure. Take extra? Greedy, rude, and unethical. Legal? Quibble your little hearts out.>

<editted to add stuff in <> brackets, as I missed the part about them being an ad gimmick.>

Edited by Kouign Aman (log)

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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But the cost to the store is nothing, so how can it be factored into the price of the produce?

"I like 'em french fried pertaters." (Billy Bob Thornton as Karl, in Sling Blade.)
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I'd say that this is definitely a grey area.... Then again, my supermarket doesn't supply bags (you have to bring your own) and produce vendors are remarkably stingy with their bags. This boils down to I buy mine - and even in small quantities they're not expensive things (less than 1 cent each).

In Chris' case, where the supermarket gets the bags for free, I see no reason that he shouldn't take them. They're offered, after all - it's like returning to the free samples cart, except that in this case he's sampling the plastic and not the produce.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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In Chris' case, where the supermarket gets the bags for free, I see no reason that he shouldn't take them. They're offered, after all - it's like returning to the free samples cart, except that in this case he's sampling the plastic and not the produce.

Not quite. Someone is paying for them, and in this case it's the advertisers who pay to have their message on the bags. These are often small local business' with limited advertising budgets. Samples are offered in the hope that you'll enjoy the product and buy it. It's a different situation altogether.

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I'm failing to see how advertising - visual samples offered in the hope that you'll buy a product - is any different from a sample cart (physical samples in the hope that you'll buy a product) in this case. Is it wrong, then, to take multiple copies of flyers? The two products are used for the same end.

Besides which, given that Chris is reusing the bags in a context where the advertising will likely be seen again (lunches, etc) he is not failing to meet the needs of the companies who are advertising on them....

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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But the cost to the store is nothing, so how can it be factored into the price of the produce?

I hear ya. See <> edits in my post - I was operating on local data.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Then, in my opinion, returning 10x to the sample table is greedy and rude too. You like the stuff that much? Buy some. Hungry? Buy lunch.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I stopped by the store this morning to ask if they pay for the bags. I didn't speak to an owner or authorized corporate representative -- just one of the section managers -- but what I was told is that they don't pay for bags. There's a company in Brooklyn, apparently, that sells bags to product manufacturers and prints advertisements on the bags. The product manufacturers offer these bags for free to the stores as a way to get their logos out there. The company is called Mediacy if anyone wants to do more research.

Knowing that the bags don't cost the store anything, and that in fact they're intended as advertising, does change the nature of the argument. However, you started the forum before you knew this. And, as Kouign Aman pointed it, you posed it as an ethical issue, which tells me you had some doubts about how ethical your behavior really was.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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One of the major vendors at my local farmers market expects you to bring your own produce bags. If you don't have any (or have not stolen some from one of the other vendors), they will sell you biodegradable bags for 5¢ each.

The purpose is to do their part in minimizing plastic bags in the landfill.

Monterey Bay area

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When buying iceberg lettuce, even though it is already wrapped, I will place the lettuce in a second bag for refrigerator storage. Hence, upon further consideration, I should not cast the first stone from my glass house.

That's not stealing. There is not a produce item you buy in a grocery store that shouldn't go into a produce bag before you put it in your cart/basket. You should assume your grocery cart/basket is contaminated (and a lot are) and protecting the food you buy from that contamination is a very good thing. I put every produce item I purchase in a produce bag, the exception being produce that's too large to fit (eg, watermelons).

One of the major vendors at my local farmers market expects you to bring your own produce bags. If you don't have any (or have not stolen some from one of the other vendors), they will sell you biodegradable bags for 5¢ each.

The purpose is to do their part in minimizing plastic bags in the landfill.

The problem with this logic is that they are assuming my plastic bags are ending up in the landfills.

I have the option of recycling my plastic bags at my local grocery store either through re-use or through their own recycling program. I also re-use the plastic bags I get at the grocery store by using them to tote my Costco/warehouse store purchases into my house. Costco is too cheap to provide me plastic bags for my purchased items. They give me giant cardboard boxes (if even that...sometimes they just throw the items into the cart without any kind of box or bag). I open my car trunk, move everything from the boxes into my reuseable plastic bags and leave the boxes at Costco. My plastic bags do not end up in the landfill, if I can help it.

Steven, I don't think it's stealing. If you feel any pangs of guilt about about it, break up your bunch of bananas so it's one per bag. Or your bunch of grapes. :laugh:

Methinks this is a mountain being made out of a molehill.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I stopped by the store this morning to ask if they pay for the bags. I didn't speak to an owner or authorized corporate representative -- just one of the section managers -- but what I was told is that they don't pay for bags. There's a company in Brooklyn, apparently, that sells bags to product manufacturers and prints advertisements on the bags. The product manufacturers offer these bags for free to the stores as a way to get their logos out there. The company is called Mediacy if anyone wants to do more research.

Knowing that the bags don't cost the store anything, and that in fact they're intended as advertising, does change the nature of the argument. However, you started the forum before you knew this. And, as Kouign Aman pointed it, you posed it as an ethical issue, which tells me you had some doubts about how ethical your behavior really was.

Agreed.

From my standpoint, the OP posted a question, didn't like the answers, and has spent the last two days justifying his actions. Not even sure the original question has anything to do with the stated purpose of this website in the first place.

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One of the major vendors at my local farmers market expects you to bring your own produce bags. If you don't have any (or have not stolen some from one of the other vendors), they will sell you biodegradable bags for 5¢ each.

The purpose is to do their part in minimizing plastic bags in the landfill.

The problem with this logic is that they are assuming my plastic bags are ending up in the landfills.

I have the option of recycling my plastic bags...

Recycling your plastic bags is what the vendor is encouraging. Was my post unclear?

Monterey Bay area

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From my standpoint, the OP posted a question, didn't like the answers, and has spent the last two days justifying his actions. Not even sure the original question has anything to do with the stated purpose of this website in the first place.

I'm inclined to believe that the purpose of the original post was to drive website traffic. Maybe Steven will clarify.

Monterey Bay area

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Is providing stimulating topics somehow sleazy? Is maintaining interest in the site underhanded?

I think not. In fact I'd go so far as to say its their responsibility

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Is providing stimulating topics somehow sleazy? Is maintaining interest in the site underhanded?

I think not. In fact I'd go so far as to say its their responsibility

I agree... and had I had the additional information that surfaced later in the discussion, my initial response would have been different. If they're given away as promotional/advertising items then it's not stealing.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Holly, doesn't all that assume the cost is not already factored into the purchase price?

I think they would factor in the price of the bags needed for the amount of produce they sell, not the 5-6X that amount they would need if we all took so many extras.

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Is providing stimulating topics somehow sleazy? Is maintaining interest in the site underhanded?

I think not. In fact I'd go so far as to say its their responsibility

I didn't say or imply that it was sleazy. And if his intent was to drive website traffic, I'd say he succeeded. However, I feel that this topic has nothing to do with food or cooking, so what is the purpose in posting it?

Monterey Bay area

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