Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Paper or Plastic? Well...its not really plastic its made from corn starch. Honest to God!

Bags easily entertain cats, and when living in poverty, they can be used as a bathing suit. I use them at work for their functional and intended purpose, to hold groceries. Did you know people are sensitive when it comes to having their groceries bagged? True story. Bagging groceries even has it’s own terminology. Like customers at Starbucks, requesting “with room” or “no room”, “double” or “quad”, “skinny”, “wet” or “dry”, “light”, “venti”, “tall”, or “grande”, customers at the grocery stores ask for double, no bag, paper in plastic, double paper in triple plastic, etc. Surprisingly, the customer has a lot of demands for their food goods. Here’s a list of the things people have special requests and instructions for when placing items into bags:
  1. Type: Paper, Plastic, His/Her Own Bag, or No Bag
  2. Distribution of Weight
  3. Number of Bags Used
  4. Placement of Items in Bags

Now lets examine each one of these items in the list.


There are 3 types: Plastic bags

Most people don’t care what you bag their groceries in. Plastic is basically the default. Why? It’s the most convenient (paper bags and tote bags are more tedious to fill because they don’t like to cooperate, making them more time consuming). It’s also cheaper for the store to buy, so next time your courtesy clerk or cashier does not ask you, “Paper or plastic” don’t reprimand them and tell them it’s their job to ask you. It’s not their job. Often times, employers discourage their employees from asking, “Paper or plastic” because it cost the store more money to buy paper bags. (Although on a side note, I personally am required to ask what type of bag. It's in my job description. Sure of it.)

If you didn’t know, there is actually a hierarchy of bags. If plastic was a social standing, it would be working class. It’s on the bottom of the ranking system. Why? Because plastic is bad on the environment. It degrades slowly. It has toxins in it. It’s bad news bears. I’m pretty sure the use of one plastic bag harms 2 baby dolphins and Kola Bear. (Another side note: Our bags are supposedly made out of a corn starch polymer that degrades in about three months, unlike the plastic bags that take tens of thousands of years. I did notice though that the bag says "degradable" not bio-degradable. I'm not sure but I think that is a big difference.)

Paper is middle class. Paper can be recycled. So, by requesting paper, you’re a better person. You’re saving the world, unlike those plastic folks.

Tote bags, or any bag (that’s not paper or plastic) brought in by a customer is upper class. They don’t kill Kola bears and they save the trees. They’re reusable. People who use tote bags often think they deserve a medal or a unicorn sticker, or something like a pat on the back, but they often don’t get those kind of awards. They don’t get awards at all. However, they do get to leave the store feeling like a hero.

No Bag is not actually a type of bag, but it is an option, and it is on the hierarchy scale. Nothing is being used, but the hands of the customer, so it’s a big deal. No Bag is a millionaire. And people who don’t use bags are right up there with Mother Teresa and 9/11 Firefighters.

2. Distribution of Weight

Sometimes people want their bags to be light or packed full. God forbid you, the bagger, make the mistake of not reading their mind. If a bag is too heavy, you’re insensitive. Even though 3 soup cans seems fairly light to you, obviously, it’s not. If a bag is not packed full, to the point where the bag is bound to split open from the bottom, then you are an idiot for not filling it. Just cause the bag is already filled with a 12 case of beer, and half a gallon of milk, does not mean you can’t squeeze in 7 more containers of yogurt. I love it when the customer says, "Just fill it up, no matter how heavy." It never occurs to them that they are not the only one lifting the bag."

3. Number of Bags Used

Sometimes there are special requests: Only 2 bags, or fit it all in one bag. Sometimes, items need to go in a paper bag and then inside a plastic, which may seem like a contradiction. After all, aren’t the people who request paper trying to save the environment? They want to be able to recycle it, right? But, by throwing it inside the plastic (because they need those handles), isn’t it more wasteful and worse than just asking for plastic? Yes, it is. You know how in social classes, when someone falls in onc class, such as working class, but they think they’re in another class, like middle class (because everyone claims they’re middle class)? Well, that’s what Paper in Plastic is. Paper is involved, so it appears to be in the middle on the hierarchy of bags, but it’s not. It’s on the bottom, the low bottom. It’s poverty. Those paper bags probably won’t even be recycled. They’re just gonna be used as trashcans.

4. Placement of Items in Bags

Sometimes, you (the bagger) think you know what you’re doing, but then you’re reminded of how stupid you are for not bagging certain items together, or bagging them separately. I understand canned foods should not be placed on bread. I’m aware that placing eggs at the bottom of the bag is a bad idea. And I always ask customers beforehand if they would like their Windex bagged separately from their food (some don’t mind because they want to conserve the number of bags), but why does a magazine have to go in its own bag if I’m able to sandwich it between 2 boxes of cereal? Why does a gallon of milk (or anything with handles) need to be placed in a bag? Is it really the end of the world if I stick the one and only refrigerated item, in a bag with non-refrigerated items?

Well, enough on that subject. It's amazing to me sometimes how in an eight hour day, I have nothing better to do than to think about this shit. Sigh...

Plastic bags by the numbers

180 million

Roughly the number of plastic shopping bags distributed in San Francisco each year.

2 to 3 cents

Amount each bag costs markets, compared with anywhere from 5 to 10 cents for a biodegradable bag.

4 trillion to 5 trillion

Number of nondegradable plastic bags used worldwide annually.

430,000 gallons

Amount of oil needed to produce 100 million nondegradable plastic bags.

Source: S.F. Department of the Environment; Worldwatch Institute


  1. Anonymous11:35 AM

    Damn straight you'd better know how "I" like to have mine bagged!
    I shouldn't have to tell you. :)
    My only complaint is bagger's (not cashiers} think that if a bag could contain 15 bags of potatoe chips, you should fill it up with heavy items too. Size of bags does not matter, size of customer and age does when bagging. :) If a bag is too heavy, I just put the extra in my "extra bag" I keep in the car. IO

  2. I never realized how much of a science "bagging" is. Sheesh!