A Swiss Grocery Shopping Icon

8:00 PM

One of the thing that annoys me beyhond anything in India is this casual attitude people have toward plastic, and plastic bags in particular. And Supermarkets reign supreme in the field of plastic wastage.
See I grew up in Switzerland where, not only people bag their own stuff at the cash counter, but tend to do it in one of those re-usable paper bags :

They have been there for the past 30+ years, so much that everybody in Switzerland knows what the "paper bag" is. And here is what it is : a foldable bag made of sturdy paper that you can buy at the cash counter for 30 cents, the bag is about 35 x 15 x 50 cm and as you can see in the picture my 1 litre (1 quart) measuring cup looks quite small in comparison. The bag can contain 5-6kg of groceries including bottles and heavy pakages, and will last you at least 10 uses if not more.
Supermarkets know this, and in fact encourage you to bring back your bags to use again, what's more as of recently they even provide less good quality plastic bags (which have always been free of cost) so that people bring their own carrying solution! And once your paper bag is no longer useable you just need to dispose of it at the nearest recycling point as it's made of 100% paper and can be recycled. HATS OFF GUYS!

So now let me boooohoooo Indian supermarkets once more (won't be the last time alas), where not only do they insit on bagging your stuff, but do it in such a way that you end up with 5 times more bags than what's is required to pack your stuff, are deaf to your protests about the waste, and seal the bag with heat in the newer hipper fancy schmancier Hypermarkets to supposably prevent theft or something...one word : Bullshit (sorry for the swearing it just had to go out).
What's more is that most supermarkets will stop you from taking your own canvas tote, or coconut fiber basket or any bulky carrying solution inside the store, the guard at the entrance will force you to deposit your "luggage" at the entrance meaning you will come out with plastic bags from the shop to collect your now useless eco-friendly carrier. If you outsmart them and fold a bag in your purse and proundly produce it at the cash counter, the lady will explain to you that first she has to give you a supermarket plastic bag, to then put it in your fabric bag simply because it's store policy! that has pissed me off a few time, so I stopped jamming my purse with my canvas tote, and resorted to yelling at the idiot at the bagging duty when they refused to put my shampoo with all my other stuff, and throw all usless bags back at them. But once I come back from this trip, the offensive will be thougher, I will pack a few of those paper bags, and carry them with me on gorcery shopping missions in India, since they will fold in my purse perfectly the security guard will be unsuspicious, and this time I will do the bagging, and I'm ready to throw fits if the cashier protest.

What is the use of talking about global warming and how it is a necessity to reduce our carbon footprint, if no one acts, and worse if the retail industry forbid you to do your part inventing stupid "store policies" to excuse the fact they they are the main responsible people for the clogging of our water bodies and drains?
As you can see I'm ready to be a role model, and hopefully by carrying those paper bags around I will give a few some ideas around. See I would not even mind paying a few paise to purchase a re-usable bag with the store logo on it if it is really what matters to them. As long as it can put an end to our great plastic plague.
And I remember that when I mentionned the paper bags many of my Indian friends said "Oh but this will break" and when I explain it did not and could carry a lot of weight I was met with dubious stares and a "Anyway it cannot work in India" which is once more the usual syndrome people around there seem to suffer from: "Making excuses before even trying".


  1. This plastic bag phenomenon in India is a new - as in the last 15 years - phenomenon. When we were kids back in the 1980s (there now you know how old I am :)), my mother would take two big shopping baskets - usually jute or straw - to the vegetable market. The vegetable guys would fold up the produce in old newspaper, tie it with string and put it in her basket. The shops selling shampoo, soap, etc.would also put their stuff into bags made of old newspaper and into my mother's basket. It was great.

    And there used to be a man (called the kabadiwalla) who would come by every so often to buy our old newspapers and bottles for a little bit of money - yes, we got paid for our recycling! I wonder if these will make a comeback now that plastic is on its way out, thanks to expensive petroleum prices.

  2. The kabadiwalla still exist they buy only newspaper though, not all paper stuff that could be recycled, and glass bottles.

    At the local grocery store I still use my canvas tote, but his stock is limited, and even they they still wrap stuff in plastic (as in loose flour and lentils you buy per KG)the pharmacist still wrap stuff in small bags made of old newspaper. And I remember the general store near my place in Chennai used to sell sugar, eggs, and lentils wrapped in cones made of paper, but he was an exeption.

  3. That's interesting that kabadiwallas will only take newspapers now. When I was young, the kabadiwalla would take even the old, filled-with-scribbles exercise books from our school bags. You would often find your streetside snack of peanuts being served to you in pouches made of old exam papers and from pages of school note books full of someone's handwriting practice! I guess even the kabadiwallas are becoming choosy now.:)

  4. They are VERY choosy now, plus not all are honest, there are a couple of ones who tried to cheat me on the weight of my paper LOL.

    But if they find an old flattened corn flakes box, or wrapping, or a piece of cardboard in the pile they simply give it back to you saying they don't take it. They still take magazines though, I know quite a few magazines finish their lives in a second hand bookstore or something though.
    Would be fun being served peanuts in exam papers :-) now it's nothing fancier than a cone made of old newspaper LOL

  5. Anonymous2:09 AM

    I've never been to India but this reminds me of the Wal-Mart near my home. I try not to shop there much but price does become an issue sometimes and I go home with 1400 plastic bags with one item each. Okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration. :)


Blog Archive