Butterflies are free, and once, so were bags

I used to be a sacker. No, I spelled it correctly. Sacker, not slacker. Most of you don’t know what a sacker is, or was. Probably never seen one.

Sacking groceries was a fine old American tradition.
Sacking groceries was a fine old American tradition.

It was one of my first jobs. A sacker was a supermarket employee who placed a customer’s groceries in a paper sack (bag) after the clerk rang up the price on the cash register. Often a sacker would then carry the customer’s bags out to their car, or place the bags in a cart and wheel it out to the car, especially if it were a female customer, with a bunch of kids, or elderly, or all of the above.

It was a service the store provided. Because this was a time when providing good service was as important as having a good product. The bags, or sacks, the groceries were placed in were free. And I like to think that was because this is America and free bags is the American Way.

Well, that is a time, and an America, that is long gone.

Until this year, while shopping I have never paid for a bag of any kind in my life. Be it paper or plastic, whether at a supermarket, department store, liquor store, convenience mart, bookstore, or whatever, bags were free.

But last year the draconian Los Angeles City Council passed an Orwellian law that prohibits large grocery stores, smaller independent markets and liquor stores from providing free plastic bags, the idea being that customers would have to bring their own reusable bags, or purchase a bag.

Girls could be sackers, too.
Girls could be sackers, too.

Plastic bags are a problem. They litter the city streets. They end up in the ocean. Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Plastic bags suck.

But so does L.A.’s bag law.

All it has accomplished is to create a windfall profit for grocers, who already gouge us enough. And hasn’t done a dang thing to stop the proliferation of plastic bags.

The stores, eying a money-making opportunity, has worked it out like this: some of the reusable bags cost as much as $1; the free paper bags, once a staple of American shopping, that costs about 2 cents to make, sell for 10 cents (and easily fall apart), and we still have the plastic bags that everyone wanted to ban because consumers can purchase thicker, reusable plastic bags for 15 cents or more, or in some smaller markets, you pay a dime for the same old plastic bag that you once got for nothing.

Market analysts estimate the grocery industry will make millions by selling their cheap paper bags or reusable plastic bags, Gee, isn’t that nice?

As former comedian, Dennis Miller used to say, I don’t want to get off on a rant here but . . . this is insane. And it’s been sticking in my craw for while, and now the California legislature has just passed a statewide ban on disposable plastic bags that if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown would be first such statewide ban in the country.

And wait . . . disposable plastic bags?  Aren’t they all disposable eventually? What, the new bags lasts forever? Uh-huh.  Buddha say nothing last forever.

Sometimes sackers doubled as stackers.
Sometimes sackers doubled as stackers.

Obviously, I’m mad as hell and I am just going to have to take it. The chances of our politicians becoming enlightened anytime soon are extremely remote. The prospects for the citizenry, who have defeated their own purpose, to rise up in protest seem practically nil. Nope, we’ll just bear and grin it . . . and someday we’ll tell our grandkids that once upon a time bags were free and they’ll laugh and shake their heads and wonder if it was really like that way back in the olden times.

Soon all of our precious freedoms will be taken away . . . I just can’t believe there isn’t a better way to protect the environment, that is, if these bag laws actually do protect the environment . . . I have my doubts.  So, when the bag law comes to your town, be afraid, be very afraid.

By the way, you might want to be aware that the plastic bag ban is responsible for a spike in e coli infections, so make sure you wash your reusable bags and do what I do, use the still free produce bags to tote home your fruit, veggies, etc.

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4 thoughts on “Butterflies are free, and once, so were bags

  1. Interesting post.

    Here in Japan they sometimes charge for bags (not all shops), but now they always ask if you need a bag. The idea is pitched as being to “save the environment”, and Japanese consumers have happily gone along with it. So, you get someone driving their SUV to the local grocery store and filling their reusable bag full of imported meat and assorted canned goods, all of which took vast amounts of fossil fuels to produce and transport. Somehow all that doesn’t count because you brought your bag and maybe your SUV is a hybrid.

    It is really just green piety, like recycling. Sometimes it takes more energy to recycle something than to produce it from virgin materials, yet nobody wants to talk about that. The recycling industry is sacred and moreover has vast numbers of people who make a living from it. The actual environmental solution would be to consume less energy altogether, but that would damage the economy. Almost nobody is willing to voluntarily sacrifice their consumption levels for the greater good.

    1. Thanks for sharing this information. Recycling has become what we call a “sacred cow.” It’s great but no one has ever thought past it. We recycle and sit back, proud that we’re doing something to help the environment, not realizing that studies have shown that recycling has encouraged overconsumption. And even though recycling is now a big business, we actually recycle less than half of what we could. Nothing is perfect.

  2. Just a point of information…the profit margins of grocery store are famously low – less than 2%. If there’s gouging going on, it’s unlikely they’re the culprits. This doesn’t make the situation any less aggravating, but it perhaps helps to clarify it a bit.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. Looks like you are correct. Frankly, it is surprising that supermarkets do so well with such low margins, but I suppose that speaks to volume. Like you said, doesn’t make the situation less aggravating. It still costs too much to walk out of Ralphs with just basic supplies.

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