It says here in Google: Plastic bags were invented as an alternative to paper grocery bags in the late 1970s to protect trees and prevent clear-cutting of our forests. Plastic bags are a by-product of natural gas extraction and provide an environmental solution to the burn off of this gas during the refining process.
Now, there’s quite a twist to the virtually universal view that plastic products are ruining the environment, and urgent steps are needed to minimize their use.
Plastic bag use in supermarkets earned my wrath some decades ago when I composed this little commentary as a newspaper contribution, regrettably rejected for publication:
In the Bag … Please!
Does anyone remember going to the store in the B.P. era (Before Plastic)?
We used to do all our food and necessaries buying at the neighbourhood general store, except when we went to the butcher shop for sausages and liver and other good meat stuffs, or to the fish shop for cod or halibut or whatever. We carried home the groceries in small paper bags, the fish covered in wax paper and the meat wrapped in heavy brown paper and tied with a string.
The more ancient among us can recall going off to the store bearing our own containers to be filled with various provisions. Flour and sugar were poured out from 100-pound sacks or bins hidden behind the counter. Empty glass milk bottles were refilled after the store keeper made sure they were whistle clean. Containers were presented for buying measured quantities of beans and peas and other dry products. Going to the store was always an adventure for the younger family members.
Buying a jug or bottle of molasses was the biggest treat of all. The store keeper pumped it out of a huge puncheon that looked 200 years old. We got a chance to taste the runny stuff at the top of the bottle on the way home. Then when we got there, we’d get a spoonful spread on thick home-made bread. Yep, them were the good old days!
Lots of things have changed since the dingy but comfortable old grocery stores gave way to today’s glossy, efficient but woefully impersonal supermarkets. Most everything one needs is pre-packaged. Glass milk bottles have given way to plastic bags. And molasses comes only by the carton.
Supermarkets used to give customers big sturdy paper bags for carrying their groceries to the car or the bus stop. Then plastic came increasingly into vogue. Many stores now use it exclusively, but some continue to offer a choice.
In our neighbourhood emporium, the checkout routine goes something like this:
The cashier – for some reason it’s always a young lady – checks the order through promptly and passes it on to a much younger stacker -invariably a callow boy gaining his first experience in putting anything whatever into a bag.
“Paper or plastic?” the stacker asks, clutching a fistful of the paper-thin plastic variety.
“Neither, thank you.”
The kid looks up in open disbelief to find himself handed a couple of cloth bags. Nodding in bewilderment, he lays the cloth things aside and stuffs the first purchase item into a plastic bag.
“Use the cloth bags, please”.
“Oh,” with an uncomprehending half-grin. “Oh, yeah.” He picks up a cloth bag in one hand, clutches the plastic bag and contents in the other, and drops them inside.
“No, we don’t want the plastic bag.”
“Huh! Oh, yeah. Sure.” All too unsurely, the plastic bag is removed and reluctantly disposed of.
Left to his own devices, the kid proceeds to bag the purchases on a first-come first-stuffed basis, regardless of size, shape, weight, volume or racial origin.
If grapes come through first – grapes go in the bottom of the bag. Dish detergent next – plunk it on top of the grapes. A package of sausages next. It can go on the detergent. The assembly line must go on.
The cloth bags that environmental awareness has produced are of sturdy make and usually capacious size. They can readily hold a pretty sizeable load. When they’re allowed to. But not if the standard supermarket stacker can help it.
In his eyes, no bag is made to carry more than three, and preferably two, items. Given a purchase of eight items, cloth bags are burdened with two each, whereupon the lad, sighing with great relief, reaches for the treasured plastic to make up the balance in proper manner. By this time, customer patience has worn too thin to raise further objection, so the plastic stays.
There’s one small consolation. It can at least be used to hold all the other plastic bags the supermarket blessed us with before. We can drop them off at the recycle bin to be made into more plastic bags the supermarket will need to keep the busy little stacker happy.
Oh where oh where are the molasses jugs of yester year?