Supermarkets Can’t Handle Paper Bags

Alert — and frustrated — “06880” reader/shopper Bob Weingarten writes:

Several years ago Westport banned plastic shopping bags. They were replaced by paper bags. Most had paper handles, for ease of carrying.

Only one supermarket consistently provided paper bags without handles: Stop & Shop.

But a month ago, Fresh Market switched from paper bags with handles to ones without.

When Fresh Market management was asked about the switch, they said it was done by corporate, because all other Fresh Markets use plastic. That’s not really an excuse.

I no long buy more than one bag of groceries, since it is difficult to carry bags without handles. I could use a cart to my car but would rather not. It just causes congestion in the parking lot.

“06880” readers: Has the plastic bag ban worked out for you? Click “Comments” below.

Local grocery store bags — with and without handles. (Photos/Bob Weingarten)

75 responses to “Supermarkets Can’t Handle Paper Bags

  1. Don’t get caught in the middle of the plastic, paper, bags with or without handles problem. Bring your own reusable bags. Wash them once in a while. It’s as though someone suggested pull-ups in between diapers and being potty trained. Skip the pull-ups take control. Bring the bag you like!

  2. How hard is it to take your own reusable bags? It is the norm here in Europe now and if you don’t have your own you pay for each bag…

  3. I bring my own cloth bags and keep them in the car.

  4. Even with handles, paper bags are not nearly as sturdy as many of the reusable bags out there. My trunk is full of them in all shapes and sizes.

  5. I have long-ago started using sturdy reusable bags for all grocery shopping EXCEPT Fresh Market because their bags had handles. I saved up those bags and periodically took them to the Senior Center for the meals-on-wheels program through which meals are delivered to 35 Westport homes five days a week. The Center does not prepare the meals but organizes a cadre of volunteer drivers to do the deliveries. And having bags makes it much easier. When FM stopped using the bags with handles, I told the manager, Tony, about my disappointment in not being able to recycle the bags to the Center. He immediately gave me a box of 50 of the very nice very sturdy reusable bags that the market sells for a dollar each to give to the Center. I think this was very gracious. And now I take my reusable bags when I go to FM. I still collect the paper bags with handles from Trader Joe’s and Balducci’s for the Center. Spend five bucks at FM for five of their reusable bags and leave them in the trunk of your car.

  6. Jerid O'Connell

    Why not use the reusable bags that they sell? They have handles, are stronger and last forever.

  7. Bags need to be eliminated period. Plastic bags were much better than every bag at
    Trader Joe’s being doubled. The environmental impact of that is extraordinary. We need a NO BAG law. Works fine at Costco. If no bags were supplied everyone would bring reusable bags or be forced to buy bags to use. If people had to pay for bags I guarantee they wouldn’t double bag as well. Suffolk County on Long Island just successfully banned all bags. Most of France does it and most European countries require you to bring your own bag. Why don’t we?

  8. Listen to Tim Minchen: https://youtu.be/hFgtIziShmc

  9. As the co-chair of the Westport Woman’s Club Food Closet, which supplies food to those in need, in our town, who are referred to us from Westport Human Services, I want to express my disappointment with the removal of “handled” paper bags from Fresh Market. I am a frequent shopper there and am always happy to recycle their bags for the WWC FC needs!
    When we are contacted to fill the needs of a person/family, it is made so much easier for us to fill these bags from the Food Closet (located at the WWC), load them into our cars, deliver them to Town Hall and unload them there.
    Lifting and loading with handles is the best way to go!
    We are always in search of donations of handled paper bags.
    It is also a concern of ours as to the ease for the recipients transporting the groceries to their homes.
    The issue of reusable bags does not apply here. We need to use paper bags for this service.
    Thank you that Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Balsucci’s still have handled bags!

    • glad to know we can rescyle paper bags with handles to you and not the recycle bin when we do have them – could you use recycled clean plastic take out containers too?

  10. I add my voice to the list … reusable bags!!
    NOTE TO WENDY McKEON: Have you checked with those stores (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Balducci’s) to see if they’ll each donate a stack of handled paper bags to the WWCFC? When I used to volunteer at the library with the book sales, there were always stacks of unused handled paper bags – as well as used ones that the volunteers brought in. If you’re interested I can give you the name of who to contact with the library — maybe you two can work out a partnership.

  11. Westporters, should continue to follow the sustainable trend and stop using any bags except the ones they bring themselves. All the excess paper and plastic are a gigantic waste

  12. Here in Seattle, shoppers do have to pay for store-supplied bags, as Doug Fierro suggests. Everyone keeps a supply of sturdy cloth bags in their cars.

  13. I suggest investing a few dollars in reusable bags, such as those at Trader Joe’s. They never break, are waterproof and much better for the environment!!
    Fiona Hodgson

  14. You should keep reusable bags in your car. Once you get in the habit, it really works well.

  15. Dick Lowenstein

    I’m a mixed media man. For kitchen garbage cans: sturdy, handled paper bags. For bathroom waste can: plastic bags so that waste can be tied up. For wet waste: always plastic bags.

    Where to get them, when needed? (And when I don’t need more, I have reusable bags in my car.)

    For paper bags: Trader Joe. (At Whole Foods, they give you a ten cent credit for each reusable bag you provide.)

    For plastic bags, I’ll shop in Fairfield or Norwalk, where they smile and give me some extras when I tell them I’m from Westport. (No floating bags here; filled ones go to the transfer station for incineration.)

    As for Fresh Market, I think their switch is dictated by economics. I’m surprised they are still in business in Westport

  16. Fairfield Trader Joe’s on Black Rock Turnpike has finally gotten rid of plastic
    bags and their vegetable/fruit bags are biodegradable! At the education of
    my daughter years ago, I began using cloth bags which can be washed and
    hold up nicely!
    Carol Waxman

    • Unfortunately, those produce bags marketed as “compostable” or “biodegradable” at places such as Trader Joe’s require an industrial composting facility in order to be handled properly; therefore, compostable bags are essentially the same as plastic in terms of how they’re disposed of and how they break down. Norwalk doesn’t accept compostable bags for recycling as we don’t have access to an industrial composting facility. Pretty sure the same is true for Westport. Reusable produce bags also hold up nicely and keep vegetables fresh, too! Love them.

  17. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    I agree that plastic is a hazard to our Town, Country, and Planet
    If anyone has a minute / you tube “Plastic Floating in the Pacific Ocean”
    These are great documented scary sites to see
    We as Americans have the ingenuity to change plastic so it can deteriorate in 1-3 years / or better solutions
    Maybe all our local grocery stores can give their loyal shoppers (at no cost) a cloth bag (with a handle) with the stores LOG on it
    This is great advertisement for that store

  18. Bring your own bags and save our planet for our grandchildren.
    Paper while better then plastic has an environmental impact too.

  19. I live in the Berkshires and most of the towns have a no plastic bag law. If you do not bring your own bags then you have to pay for the paper bag with or without handles. After all these years I am surprised that it is not second nature to have reusable bags in your car for all your shopping

  20. Jill Turner Odice

    We used to live in Southern Ca. They banned plastic bags years ago. They charged for recyclable bags if you didn’t have your own. I have a collection of assorted recyclable bags from all over the country. I started collecting them back in the 90’s. My first one was from that little store on Taylor Place that had all kinds of ecological stuff. ( Cannot remember the name…) I even make my own using photographs I have taken over the years. They make great gifts! There is no reason to have plastic bags or even the paper ones anymore. We do use the Trader Joe bags to cook our turkey in though 🙂

  21. Just so everyone knows, I have about 10 reusable bags in my car trunk – so I do use them, especially at Stop and Shop. But when running into Fresh Market for only a few items I normally don’t take a reusable bag – maybe I should. I do use the paper bags received for recycling of bottles, cans, papers , etc. to transfer items to the recycle bins at our transfer station since plastic is not allowed. I wonder if all the people that have commented also recycles all items and bring them to the transfer station or place them in recycle cases for their garbage pickup!

    I just didn’t understand the rationale provided by Fresh Market to eliminate handles on paper bags since I see most shoppers use Fresh Market provided paper bags. I have seen almost no shoppers use reusable bags at Fresh Market, maybe I shop at the wrong time! Then I see shoppers struggle to carry the handle-less bags outside to their cars. I’ve asked a few shoppers about this and they have told me they agree with me that Fresh Market should go back to paper bags with handles.

    Same with Trader Joe that I don’t see many shoppers use reusable bags.
    So don’t get me wrong. I recycle everything I can and believe everyone should do the same. I use the paper bags to bring the recycled items to the transfer station – so even the paper bags are recycled. But I also believe that a supermarket should make it easier for people to carry their groceries to their cars and then into their homes.

  22. If you return shopping cart to the store’s rack parking lot congestion problem solved.

  23. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    At 66 I’m not quite old enough to know for sure what was actually the case (before our throwaway society was shoved up our butts by the CPG/Madison Ave oligopoly). I’m going to guess that all grocery bags, milk bottles, soda bottles, diapers, handkerchiefs, hypodermics, bandages, children’s toys, external packaging, bread bags, pie tins (oh wait!!!! people actually baked their own gourmet bread and pastries) were either unnecessary or reusable. My childhood friends and I used to spend our Saturdays scouring the neighborhood for pop bottles (to finance our junk food purchases). For us, it wasn’t about saving the environment it was about making money and self amusement.

  24. Laurie Brannigan

    The whole purpose is to push for the use of reusable bags to cut down on waste. If you like bags with handles then get a couple 99 cent resueable bags. They are stronger and hold more than any plastic or paper bag. Why should stores spend more on paper bags (I’m sure the plastic ones are cheaper and take up much less space, and the handles are a more expensive option) with handles when they can have us purchase and reuse a reuseable bag. A win for everyone.

  25. Peter, how many people have you seen return shopping carts to the store’s rack? For those that think I don’t believe in recycling or reuse, you should read my article in Greens Farms Living magazine of September 2018 titled “Reuse It”. If you want a copy I can send by email.

    • You were concerned about contributing to congestion. Just return cart. I don’t really care who else does it.

  26. Don’t even get started about a discussion handles or no handles.
    The only solution is BYO !!!
    I’m a member of the sustainability committee in Weston and we just passed an ordinance to ban plastic bags.
    The problem is paper bags are not any better then plastic bags, as the production is not very sustainable and doubling them is even worth.
    The best bags are cloth bags, you can wash them and reuse them.
    I think we need to follow up quickly to ban as well plastic straws, the coffee to go cups, why not keeping a reusable mug in your car.
    The European Parliament approved in October 2018 a ban on all single-use plastics, straws, plates, cutlery etc etc.
    And things need to happen fast, no excuses anymore for laziness and comfort.

  27. Stop & Shop offers boxes near check out. Another option and they are FREE.

  28. Just bring your own bags with handles and don’t use any others anywhere and the problem will be solved all over.

  29. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

  30. We have good, sturdy (reusable) cloth bags for our groceries, but we do still use paper bags for recyclables.

  31. Theresa Bairaktaris

    Unfortunately because of the, no handles, I drive into Norwalk when I have to do a large shopping.

    • You could buy a number of washable and reusable cloth shopping bags (with handles!) with the money you’d save by not commuting to Norwalk for groceries. 🙂

  32. John F. (J-period) Wandres

    Portland, Oregon here: Safeway still uses no-handle bags, but has a strange “policy”: Wine bought in the stores must be wrapped in a plastic bag that goes inside the no-handled bag. Already packaged meats must also be wrapped in a plastic bag that goes into the NHB. When I gently “demanded” the clerk un-bag the wine and the meat he mumbled that I would have to “see the manager.”O-REALLY.” My CEO and I are neighborhood co-ordinators for the Portland Food Project. Every other month we collect then take around 200 pounds of foods to a local pantry — in handled TJ bags. The pantry depends on these for their patrons, to carry their foods home; most cannot afford the fancy-dancy cloth bags.

  33. The idea of banning plastic bags is for the benefit of the environment. Rather than switching to paper bags, ideally consumers would bring their own bags, either reusing ones previously provided, or permanent, reusable bags of cloth or some other material.

  34. If you remember to recycle plastic or paper after you unload, there should be no issue in using either type of bag. I find that heavy paper bags (with or without handles) full of groceries rip more easily and can result in embarassment when carrying to or loading in your car in the parking lot and/or damaged goods. Bringing your own reusable bags is a good alternative. Just my two cents….

  35. Life in Westport is unbelievably hard!

  36. I think getting away from plastic is awesome, in dealing with paper bags with or without handles, if this is our next problem we are doing pretty good!

  37. Linda Froschauer

    We now live in Pasadena, California. Our stores must charge a fee for bags, your choice of plastic or paper. The point of this is to encourage people to bring their own bags. My initial reaction was not favorable, charge me for bags — yet another tax. But I learned that providing my own bags allows me to have more control over how groceries are packed for my ease in handling them. I select the size and characteristics of the bags. I like those that can be carried as shoulder bags since I’m able to move more freely and can handle more weight with that type of bag. I also always have a thermal bag on hand for those hot summer days when meat, dairy products, and ice cream need protection. Bonuses are that store points are provided for each bag provided by the consumer and I’m saving the bulk of bags I would be contributing to landfill. It’s become so easy and helpful to carry in bags that I also carry my own bags into stores in other cities that do not have these fees.
    Buy a bunch of inexpensive bags with handles and enjoy the convenience it provides (ie: bags from Trader Joe’s).

  38. So much conversation! I guess I’m just unlucky, but I find paper bags with handles unreliable. The handles always seem to let go at the worst possible time. I carry my own reusable bags in the car and hope that I remember to bring them into the store. I will occasionally get a paper bag so that I can use it for recycling newspapers etc. But the fabric bag so so much better
    We need to get our terms correct – the triangular logo suggests we reduce, recycle and reuse. By using our own cloth bags we are “reducing” not recycling. Using a paper or plastic bag again is “reusing”. And when we return bottles or cans to those machines at the supermarket, we are taking the first step in recycling them into new glass bottles or fleece vests.
    Americans especially have done so much damage to our world already, the very least we can do is give up plastic bags.

  39. For those that believe they have only recycling minds, so they only use recycled shopping bags, how about the plastic bags that we place vegetables within, dry cleaning bags covering cleaned cloths, purchased cloths covered with plastic bags. How many of you put them aside and then deposit them into either the Stop and Shop or Stu Leonard plastic recycle bins. I do that!

    • Bob, looks like you’re in a maximum security virtue signaling prison.
      And it’s on full lock down.
      No worries, I’m baking you a cake with a file in it.

  40. Reusable. Reusable. Reusable. In fact, the EU Parliament just passed a resolution banning most singe-use plastics.The British are in the midst of doing so. Check out all the documents available from the very recent U.N. summit conferences for information on why this is so very important.

  41. I was checking out at the Patagonia store in town and was asked if I had a bag for my items.. I thought to myself “that makes total sense!” Using re-usable bags for all retail shopping – not just at the grocery stores. That said, Most “re-usable” bags dold don’t seem very earth friendly which defeats the purpose.
    Instead of buying bags we could just use the bags we already own – even if they were meant for the beach 😉

  42. Some local shops will give you a bag with handles, like Achorns, and Golds
    if you ask for them.

  43. Bill Boyd... Staples 66

    Who knew bags would inspire so much conversation?

    • Yeah, I have never seen this quantity of comments on any of Dan’s topics – not even close. Changing the World one bag at a time?

      • Paper versus plastic is bound to stir up emotions. If you look back through the archives you will see much longer threads in the past. There does seem to be a set of topics that raises the blood pressure and stimulates responses; affordable housing for example.

  44. I say, hooray for the plastic bag ban and cheers to Westport for being in the forefront. Most of Europe shops with reusable string bags, it’s just a matter of habit. I try to always keep enough spare reusable cloth bags in my car, but when I don’t (or need to replenish my supply of handled paper bags) I get some of Trader Joe’s nice handled bags. I agree that Fresh Market’s tiny new bags are stupid and useless as they hardly hold anything (the clerks hate them too). The handled paper bags I are what I re-use for my Gillespie produce drop offs, and for collecting recyclables. The occasional plastic bag I end up with gets reused as a doggie walk bag. So, every bag in the house gets used at least twice. Norwalk is voting Jan. 8 on whether to ban plastic bags – tell your Norwalk neighbors to get behind this!!

  45. Peter J. D. Kelley ‘61

    Dear Bob: thank you for a good Sunday morning chuckle! My suggestion for you is to take the late Ed Koch’s advice: simply “Get Over It!” Use reusable shopping like the rest of us. I think you’ll be much more at ease then, and you can stop worrying about your market’s parking lot congestion from errant shopping carts threatening freshly-washed Tesla’s and Maseratis….

  46. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    It fascinates me that there have been so many responses to this topic! At the risk of sounding like the proverbial “bag lady,” I have bags for every occasion and activity, and of course, most of them are cloth with handles. They are large enough to have interesting designs and colors, and some can be folded up small enough to put in a purse. I bought a beautiful one covered with sunflowers at Fresh Market, which is very sturdy and has handles. I keep my bags for shopping in the back of my car. The ones at home have things in them and are ready to go. According to one dream interpreter, a bag “is a place for your favorite attitudes and ideas – something that holds emotions, hopes and desires…” Maybe that is why there have been so many responses to this “06880” topic. A food shopping bag has got to have handles!

  47. We keep paper bags in a corner of the kitchen for recyclables. We get plastic bags when shopping in Norwalk or Fairfield, and use them to clean the cat litter box. The bags with handles are saved for the tag sales at the Westport Woman’s Club or the Unitarian Church. Nothing is wasted.

    As far carrying the bags to the car — I park as far from the store entrance as possible, as walking is good exercise. There are places to leave the cart, and they have help to collect them and bring them back to the store. If we didn’t do that, the men would be out of a job, which would be very unfortunate!

  48. The solution is simple, bring your own shopping bags…I bought 10-15 bags from Whole foods when the ban first went into effect. The WF bags have long enough handles that can go over your shoulder

  49. Lucy C. Weberling

    These stores should stop using all paper/ plastic bags . Natural grocers uses only boxes( very convenient) or bags that you buy that are reusable. Even here in OK we are doing that. I was really surprised when I came for my once a year visit to Westport, my hometown, and noticed all of the people using paper bags coming out of Trader Joe’s. I thought it Westport was more progressive than that. Lucy Weberling Staples class of ‘61

  50. I NEED plastic/paper bags to dump trash/recyclables. I can’t just throw trash in my receptacles without them- they won’t be picked up. I always ask that baggers not use more bags than I need. Composting isn’t an option for me where I am. We can only do what we can.

    • Really good for picking up and disposing of dog poop too…..I am a huge fan of plastic bags as they have multiplicity of worthwhile uses.

  51. Mary Cookman Schmerker SHS '58

    One of the reasons that we are fans of ALDI stores is that you must bring your own bags and you need a quarter to release the shopping carts, which you get back when you return the cart to the proper spot. Personally I am tired of having shopping carts left next to my car leaving scratches and or forcing me to return someone else’s cart so I can access my car.

  52. Irene Mastriacovo

    Yes. My answer to the question “has the ban on plastic bags worked out for you”. I didn’t see the “…and why” in the question so I don’t see the need to comment further. Say “good night, Gracie”.

  53. The plastic bag ban is meant to work out for the planet, not for our convenience. We bring our own sturdy bags with handles and when we forget those I’m happy to “suffer” through a paper bag – with or without handles – small price to pay. I’m proud of Westport for stepping up!

  54. Stop & Shop in my Massachusetts little city is happy to offer paper bags with handles for a dime extra. I guess there was a lot of whining… I try to keep my cloth bags in the car, but spend the 10 cents when I forget.

  55. I feel some nostalgia here, as through high school I worked evenings and Saturdays bagging groceries and mostly, handling the pickup lane for loading groceries into cars. There weren’t handles on bags then. The art was to grab two or four bags at once by the intersecting sides or corners, lift them together with a hand underneath, and swing them into the back seat as one. Handles would have been in the way.

    Bagging was a bit of a skill, to size up the cartload and pack the bags with the weight low, squared, and distributed over all the bags so that you wouldn’t have to double bag and the loads were even and shapes self-sustaining. Also, to keep the meat and dairy separate.

    Lost art, I think.

  56. Or a more apt question, will the global use of plastic bags have worked out for your grandchildren and great grandchildren? In reality none of our food packaging habits will have worked out very well for future generations. Learn to live without plastic bags because in the next 20-30 years we’ll be learning to live without plastic food packaging

  57. sent to me by a friend – author inknown – seems appropriate to post here Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the much older lady that she should bring her own grocery bags, because plastic bags are not good for the environment.
    The woman apologized to the young girl and explained, “We didn’t have this ‘green thing’ back in my earlier days.”
    The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

    The older lady said that she was right — our generation didn’t have the “green thing” in its day. The older lady went on to explain:
    Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.

    Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags that we reused for numerous things. Most memorable besides household garbage bags was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our school books. This was to ensure that public property (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But, too bad we didn’t do the “green thing” back then.
    We walked up stairs because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

    But she was right. We didn’t have the “green thing” in our day.

    Back then we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts. Wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing.

    But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back in our day.
    Back then we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

    But she’s right; we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

    We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blade in a r azor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

    But we didn’t have the “green thing” back then.

    Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service in the family’s $45,000 SUV or van, which cost what a whole house did before the”green thing.” We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

    But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the “green thing” back then?

    Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart ass young person.

    We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off… Especially from a tattooed, multiple pierced smartass who can’t make change without the cash register telling them how much.

    • William Strittmatter

      👍

    • 👍👍

      While I support plastic bag bans, as long as everything is about market share, the next quarterly report, and “fiduciary duty” the mega corporations aren’t going to get the “green thing” either. Personal sacrifices in the name of being green mean little when we don’t hold the volume polluters accountable.

    • I would have responded sooner Sarah, but the standing ovation i gave you after reading your post lasted quite a long time.

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