Sunday, 4 March 2018

Brown paper bags are back. Baskets too!

The Plastic Age is over.

Well, of course it isn't - there are many things for which the right kind of plastic is the best material to use - but the days of non-biodegradable bags from shops and supermarkets definitely look numbered. Which means less litter, less buried in landfill sites, or dumped in the sea; and less use of oil for the manufacture of these plastic bags. And back to brown paper.

I was delighted to get my fruit in brown paper bags yesterday. An out-of-town farm shop, but in other respects just like a high-street shop.

Brown paper bags, and other kinds of paper-based bags, or even just newspaper, had been the norm when I was young for nearly all goods, from fruit and veg and cheese and sugar to bacon and fish and eggs and nuts. But at some point, even in street markets, everything was popped into white plastic bags instead. I suppose because they were less inclined to tear, and might even have been cheaper for the retailer or stallholder to buy. But, in the nature of these things, they were too insubstantial to be reused, and many just ended up blowing about in the breeze. One thing about a wet brown paper bag: it does fall apart. It becomes a soggy pulp, and quickly returns to the soil.

There are downsides to paper, of course. I wouldn't want to see the remaining rain forests chopped down so that we can all switch from plastic to paper. But we all recycle now, so that can be avoided. I'd also like to see more general use of 'clever' brown paper, the kind that is moisture-resistant and heat-sealable, so long as it can still be recycled. Mind you, I wouldn't welcome back the notorious Tetrapak milk carton, unless they have managed to improve it, so that it doesn't squirt milk everywhere when you try to open it.

The use of paper seems rather retro. So why not go the whole hog, and start using shopping baskets again? The sort housewives used when popping around the corner to do the morning's local shopping? A wickerwork basket like this?

I'm not sure I can remember Mum ever using one of these herself in the 1950s, but I do recall seeing them about throughout my childhood. Everything in them was on display, one's purse included, and they were an open invitation to theft. On the other hand, as a practical means of carrying a fair amount of stuff in brown paper bags, or sundry loose items, they were unbeatable. And in their own way they had a kind of cool, if you went for the 'country-village' look. Sadly, fashions changed, and they became mere display props in grocery shops, exuding nostalgia, and then the sort of thing elderly female characters in a period drama on TV would have on their arm, or slung between the handlebars of their bicycles.

In a 2018 context, they could easily be popped into a shopping trolley, then loaded up at the till, before carrying them in style to the boot of one's all wheel drive car. A car like mine indeed. If I had such a basket, it would cause a sensation at Waitrose.

Well, why don't I get one?


  1. I am a sucker for all sorts of wicker baskets for storing vegetables etc. or shopping or even on the front of one of my bikes.

    Old style newspaper was more absorbent so was perfect for cleaning glass or starting a bonfire, the new stuff is horrible and does not burn well but probably not in such easy supply for stall holders to use. Probably been banned by EU for wrapping your fish and chips because of nasties in the ink. Most news is now online and even more difficult to wrap chips in that!

  2. I have this great idea of selling milk in glass bottles that could be returned and used again. But I guess it will never catch on.

  3. Ah! Fresh fish, wrapped in last week's news by a man or woman in a waterproof white apron. At an old-style fishmongers, open to the street...

    They can make lightweight glass, can't they...?


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