Feature Stories

Why Do We Save so Many Bags?

What is it with paper and plastic bags? Even though millions of them are tossed into the waste stream or somehow get tangled in the trees along interstates, an equal number appear to be stored in various places in our homes.

Yes, they are useful for lining trash cans, but why do we save so many? It’s probably hereditary. I recall my mother storing paper shopping bags behind the refrigerator. There’d be so many stuffed in, if you pulled one, five fell out. Each Friday’s shopping resulted in another half dozen being shoved in, pushing the others farther back, beyond reach or recovery. Still, we kept collecting them, like some compulsive chipmunk packing its hovel with sunflower seeds until it becomes a storage locker. Then he moves, to start hoarding again in a new place.

Today, we store our plastic bags on a shelf in the cellar. We roll them up with the intention of donating them to the ReSource®. However, with everything closed because of the pandemic, we just keep accumulating, rolling, and accumulating. Since they won’t let us take our reusable shopping bags into stores, the quantity of plastic bags is clogging the shelf.

Speaking of reusable bags, why do we have so many? There’s a pile in each of our cars and a stack by the garage door for back-up. Some are so worn-out they aren’t safe to carry anything but a bag of potato chips. Still, they are kept, in spite of the abundant supply on hand. But I digress.

We were talking about paper bags. They will still give you paper at the grocery store, if you request it. Remember when they used to ask, “Paper or plastic?” Not anymore; the paper is hidden out of sight under the counter. Anything so valuable the store keeps it a secret, I want. Besides, the plastic bags have gotten so thin, most rip as the packer lifts them into your cart.

So, we have piles of paper bags on another shelf down in the cellar. These bags are stored away from the plastic bags, so if you are just looking for bags, you can’t find everything at once. Being paper, they have to be stacked. Being paper, they don’t like being stacked, preferring to slip and slide all over the place. And, in the tradition of my mother’s bags behind the refrigerator, you can’t pull just one out at a time.

Someday, after the pandemic has been long forgotten, we will be cleaning things up and find all these old bags. Stuffed away and deserted. When we attempt to gather them up, they will leap off the shelf, cascading down over us like a paper waterfall. Looking down at the mess, we will recall the paper bag avalanches of our youth. Then, smiling, we will gather them all up, pack them back onto the shelf and carefully walk away.

Scott Funk lives, works, and writes (and gardens) in Vermont.  His Boomer Funk columns are available at VermontFunk.com, as are his blogs and archived Aging in Place columns.

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