Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Cloth? or Cloth? Packaging along the green path

Cloth or Cloth?

Carrying home your purchases on the green path


It used to be that hearing “paper or plastic” was a sign of environmental stewardship at the commercial level.  The birth of reusable cloth bags (aptly full of logos) appeared right behind with promises of taking the next step forward at grocery stores and farmers’ markets, and recently has been sliding into many other kinds of shops.


Carrying home purchases in a pack is not anything new. It was the practice forever, well, until paper grocery bags became the standard in the 1870’s and were “perfected” with that awesome paper handle in 1912. That’s what we all used until the dawning of the plastic tote bag in the early 1970’s.  And now, less than fifty years later, the plastic handle bag seems to have taken over the world.  But perhaps we may be nearing the end of their life cycle. Already the plastic bag is facing bans and is being overshadowed by their renewable partners in paper and biodegradables. 


But really, you can’t beat a cloth bag.  Sturdy handles or straps don’t make you question whether you’ve packed too much into a paper bag.  No poky tears from a box corner or those plastic package edges.  They have an awesome ability to shape-shift to accommodate items of many sizes.  And the cloth bag, after a little wash and dry, is as good as new.   I’ve got a few hanging around the house, a couple in the car, one at the shop. And oh, do I feel guilty when I forget to bring one into a store.  Although groceries are pretty happy to see the cloth bag, the looks at other stores can be a bit amusing when I stick out my bag, sort of like trick or treat fashion, and say, oh, that’s ok, I’ll just use my own bag to carry it home.


So, why are there not more cloth carry bags in action?

As the restaurants of Minneapolis face a new requirement this April to use only reusable, recyclable or compostable materials for packaging items to be consumed or carried out of their businesses, many owners are truly worried about the costs of making the change.  Compostables are indeed much more expensive than a simple Styrofoam cup. (5 cents vs. 20 cents for each of my 12 oz. coffee cups with a lid)  The changes will be costly to resupply restaurants, not just to the businesses, but also to the distributors who might be wondering what to do with the foam cups that will no longer be used.   Customers will likely see increases in prices as restaurants try to manage theses increased costs of doing business. 


We can work together to help make this less stressful on our small businesses, especially the small restaurants that dot our neighborhoods.  Bringing your own travel mug has already found a place in helping many coffee shops handle the cost of paper cups. This is a great way for customers to participate in reducing waste and cost at my own shop.

But what about bringing your own bag and containers to a restaurant? Does that seem a bit odd?  If you know you’re going to take something with you, how hard is it to have a bag that it can go into?  If you’re the kind of eater who likes to have a “next-day’s lunch” from a meal at a restaurant, why not bring the container you would use for hauling it to work?  Skips a step, skips the waste.  Health code, of course, always frets about cleanliness of containers and rightly. But if you’re bringing something you’ve washed at home, couldn’t that be clean enough?


However, if you’re someone who seems to be rushing a bit too often, eating in the car on the way to work or sports practice, perhaps there’s another kind of reducing to be made.  Many places can now support ordering ahead (even paying ahead) and having food ready for you when you arrive if you’re a bit short on time.  Taking a few precious minutes to sit down and eat at the place where your food was made will connect you to the people who are working to care for you, ground you in a place and space, and will give you food that will taste better and be less messy overall.


But at least, bring your own bag. It’s not that difficult really. Then, as you’re walking to your next stop, your bag will be a symbol that you are indeed an environmental steward along this green path.