Would you like a bag?

Filed in Blog by on February 13, 2012 37 Comments
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Would you like a bag for that?

Would you like a bag for that?

I try to be nice, I really do, but there are times when I can hold back no longer.

I seem to have a phrase that rings through my ears every time I walk into a shop:

“Would you like a bag?”

I’ve worked in a supermarket so I know how ‘auto pilot’ the job becomes and I know staff are just trying to be courteous and helpful, but isn’t it time to change the policy? Isn’t it time to assume no bag required unless someone asks for it?

Here are a few places I’ve been offered a bag for just ONE purchase over the past couple of months:

In Morrisons I was offered a bag for one tin of baked beans:

Mrs Green carries her tin of beans from Morrisons

Mrs Green carries her tin of beans from Morrisons

Oooops, nope, hang on a minute, it's starting to get a bit heavy to manage

Oooops, nope, hang on a minute, it's starting to get a bit heavy to manage

At Holland and Barratt I was offered a bag for a bag of dried bananas (although I’ve since read that all their bags are paper, so that’s not *quite* so bad I suppose)

Carrying my bag without a bag

Carrying my bag without a bag

While the Co-Operative were sure I needed a bag for my bagged bread:

A bag for your bread, madame?

A bag for your bread, madam?

What about you – have you been offered a bag for just one item recently?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (37)

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  1. Pinkoddy says:

    The co-op surprises me, I thought they had a policy? It’s when the managers do it makes it even worse. We need to charge for bags like Wales started doing last October.

    Great photos btw.

  2. HI Mrs G!!
    I recently had a battle with the bags, but unfortunately from the other side!

    I was working part time in a mcolls, and their policy was if anyone had more than 3 items,to ask if they need a bag! Seems silly to me as a majority of these people have handbags, or could carry them quite easily to their parked cars!!
    Each time I asked the question, I felt like my morals were crumbling. Despite encouraging the manager to buy paper bags for smaller purchases, or at least more sturdy bags so they can be re-used, and don’t need double bagging to avoid splitting; I had no such luck; Its all controlled by up above and nothing I or the manager could do would change the policy!!
    Even worse than that, the shop had outdoor bins for recycling paper and cardboard, but none indoors, and all other staff would use the general bin for convenience; leaving me to fish out the paper and cardboard later on!

    Needless to say; I didnt stay working there for long!! 😉

    Great pics; Will snap a few next time I beat the bags 😉

  3. LJayne says:

    It’s the whole advertising thing isn’t it Mrs G, that’s why they do it. I still get offered bags in loads of places. I get in first now and when I get to the till I say “I don’t need a bag thanks” before they’ve even started.

    Specifically, H Samuel wanted me to have one for the paperwork they were returning on my watch repair even though the watch went straight back on my wrist and I was carrying a handbag.
    I bought a very thin pewter bookmark for a friend’s birthday in an independant shop and they wanted me to have a bag. It was paper admittedly but I still refused.

    I do try and save up all my errands for the same day as I do my fresh fruit & veg top up shop and then I’m carrying a jute bag stuffed with other reusable bags for that. Shop assistants seem to clock those quite readily and offer less.

  4. Margaret says:

    Here in Wales we’ve had to pay since last October, at least 5 pence a time I think (I haven’t bought one) for “single use carrier bags”, including paper ones.

    I sometimes ask the staff in the supermarkets how much the reduction has been and the answers range from 40 to 70%.

    In Scotland a couple of years ago the question in a Co-op wasn’t “Do you want a bag?” but “Have you brought your bags with you?” I was never so ashamed!

  5. Karin says:

    We had a plastic bag free campaign a few years, which has helped. You are more likely to be asked if you want one rather than have one foisted on you while your mind was on other things. It’s probably time the message was reiterated, though.

  6. Neil says:

    I saw someone take a bag in the supermarket recently solely for a pack of fizzy drinks. The type that are wrapped together and come with a handle for carrying!

  7. RubbishGeek says:

    oooh a topic after my own heart!

    @margaret – that’s great, I wish our checkout operators would ask if we HAD brought our own bags!

    I got very cross the other day when, having laid out allll(there’s lots of em!) my reusable bags in the trolley ready for use the cashier STILL asked if I needed any bags.
    I must admit I snapped a little when replying ‘No thank you , I have LOTS’

    I also used to work in a supermarket and I know auto pilot mode is hard to switch off… ah well..

  8. Tracey says:

    @Margaret: “In Scotland a couple of years ago the question in a Co-op wasn’t “Do you want a bag?” but “Have you brought your bags with you?” I was never so ashamed!”

    I love that – I wish all shops did that! 😀

  9. CarSue says:

    It’s all too common here in the U.S. (at least the midwest, where we still have no bans yet). I am frequently offered a bag for single items, even for really small items that can fit easily into my handbag. I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a small, over-the-shoulder tote with me whenever I’m out and about, and that way I can just toss small purchases in there as I go, without a need to pile up a dozen or more carrier bags!

    Unfortunately, it isn’t just the shops asking…. a lot of shops here AUTOMATICALLY put your items into a bag, even without asking, even if it’s one littel item. Actually, I once watched the checker put my single bottle of nail polish and one tube of lipstick into a carrier bag. When I said, “Oh, sorry, I don’t need a bag,” she kindly removed the items….. then took the bag off the rack and threw it away! As though my items had somehow sullied it during those brief few seconds of contact before they were removed. Needless to say, I then asked for the bag out of the trash, and I took it home, hoping to find a reuse for it. Aaarrgg! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  10. Neal says:

    I cannot believe how many times that I am asked if I’d like a bag for single-item purchases! I think it is definitely time for a policy change. I don’t think employees should ever ask “the question” if a customer has come to counter with just one item. Retailers should also offer incentives if people come with their own bags (some grocery stores do this, but it really needs to become a wider trend). I, for one, walk around with an ultra-thin bag from Ikea folded into my back pocket 🙂

  11. Teresa says:

    It’s worse when they automatically put the item in a plastic bag without offering first. I saw a heavy glossy magazine put into a flimsy plastic bag in a service station newsagents. It’s not far to the car park.

    I bought a packet of crisps once and it was put in a plastic bag while the shop assistant was talking to her colleague so I took out the packet of crisps and dumped the plastic bag back onto the counter. Same when I bought a baguette that came in a cellophane packet which was then placed in a paper bag and then a flimsy plastic bag. It’s not relevant any more because in Wales plastic bags carry a charge of 5p each.

  12. Ann says:

    No, Mrs G., I get in first! I always carry a fold-up, zip-around carrybag in my handbag (never am without that!); and when at supermarket or farmers’ market or healthfood shop, am carrying a large holdall with carrybags, mesh produce bags, and plastic containers (for e.g. fish, delicatessan food). And yes, even with all that on the counter, I have been asked! But not often, and rarely twice after I’ve explained why I don’t want any .,….

  13. @Tracey: I think this is great. Why don’t we talk to the Co-Op and suggest it? They’re always trying to give me bags too.

  14. Julie Day says:

    I do get asked often that question. And the reply to them is, no, I have my own, thank you. We try to keep bags, paper and plastic ones, from the shops we’ve been to, so if we go and buy something from there again, we reuse it. I think it’s so silly to offer a bag for just one item. I love that picture of you pretending it is too heavy to carry. Funny.

  15. Heather says:

    I also find that I’m asked “do I want a bag” an infuriating number of times. I have to say the big Sainburys near to me aren’t too bad as they usually wait for you to ask for a plastic bag and have changed to asking “have you brought bags with you?” So that’s an improvement. It’s the smaller shops that are the problem. There’s a Londis and a One Stop that I frequently buy top up food from and even though I say “I don’t need a bag” as soon as they start scanning my items, I still have to stop them from loading up a plastic bag! They always seem so shocked that I have my own bags with me!!

  16. Heather says:

    I meant to say as well, when on holiday in Germany a couple of years ago, there wasn’t a single plastic bag in sight. It didn’t matter how much you bought, if you didn’t have any bags with you then tough – find a box in the supermarket or else have the food rolling around in the boot of your car!!

  17. ah, this bag-lady is happy to report that all the local Hy-Vee store clerks know me by my green carry-alls..i once forgot them and the teenage clerk looked at me as if i had committed a sin–i had, and i apologized and re-used my plastic freebies with proper shame…slowly, people are accepting and considering using their shopping bags..and i see that insulated bags are selling well. zippered mylar lined models for summer dairy and frozen goods…very sturdy with large handles..yes, i bought one..

  18. Jane says:

    I’m still thanking people for asking. It’s getting better but the Sainsbury’s Local still does my head in with the enormous piles of fluorescent bags at the till. After all these years most of the assistants know me and it has become a lot more acceptable – but the current till design isn’t with space for packing your own bag and I think about three incarnations back it was better! Hopefully it will change again. They do have reusable bags on sale again now. I’d given up asking. (They told me they kept them in a drawer at one time. Now what else are they trying to sell do they keep in a drawer?!!!) Now I can just tell them that Northern Ireland is going to be next to charge for bags! Roll on England.

  19. Haha! The pictures were a great touch!!

  20. patricia says:

    Being charged for a bag in the U.S. is the only way most people are going to start bringing their own bags. They never ask if we want a bag, they always put the items in a plastic.bag. Sometimes I will even have my cloth bags on the counter and they still put the items in a plastic bag until I remind them that I bought my own! I live in the Midwest (Indiana) and we are slow to adapt to changes happening on the west coast or over seas. I’m guessing probably in 5 years the midwest will start to have bans on using plastic bags.

  21. Antonio Pachowko says:

    I think the answer depends if you bring a bag in the first place and what you plan to do after purchasing the one item. For example you may purchase a loaf of bread in one shop and then go to another shop to buy other items (as the item you want is cheaper in the other shop). and it would look mighty suspicious if you carry the said item around the store, as you soon will develop a fan club. Anyway it is polite to ask and it is polite to refuse. What annoys me is when you go to a supermarket and they ask ” do you need any help with your Packing ” after I been shopping there for many years. Don’t they know me?

  22. Carrie says:

    I bought a tiny inexpensive silver charm for my neice’s Christmas and it was put in: 1. a drawstring fabric bag; 2. inside a jewellery box; 3. into a gift bag; 4. into the shop’s own luxury paper bag; 5. which was tied with a silky ribbon and 6. finally even the receipt was put into a cardboard envelope before it was given to me! My son and I just stared in amazement, too flabergasted to say anything as it was so OTT. Although, if buying again, I would ask them to stop at step one!

    I do carry my own reusuable jute bags, that I bought at the supermarket, but LJayne is right about the advertising that lurks behind all of these bags, especially the plastic ones. It has got me motivated to cover up the shop’s advertising on my bags before I use them again. I don’t really like being a walking advert, and especially for a business that creates so much unnecessary waste. Now where did I put that sewing box…

  23. Jane says:

    Choose what you advertise! My favourite is a World Wildlife Fund shoulder bag. I can put my handbag in it and carry that and then if I buy anything I can take my handbag out. I also usually have one of the plastic ones that have crept into the house in the bottom with my umbrella despite my drawing and notice on the inside of the front door saying ‘Take Your Own Bag Shopping ‘! I keep a couple of lager ones in the car and a large turtle net bag – very good for all those light and bulky packets – cereal, biscuits, STs etc.

    I rather fancy a jute one I’ve seen saying ‘Plastic Bags are Rubbish’.

  24. Alex says:

    This is heaven – a place where I can rant and rave to my heart’s content and everyone is on the same page. In fact I barely need to say anything as you’ve all already said it.

    Over here in NSW Australia (can’t comment on the other states) supermarkets pack your bags for you. It was one of my massive bug bears when I got here because aside from being anal about my packing I also prided myself on stuffing double the amount of wares into one bag that the assistant would. An important skill when you have limited reusable ones. They would gayly use up all mine and move on to plastic again leaving me to repack as fast as they were packing and dump all the plastic bags back on the counter before leaving! I guess they have a policy to prevent overloading, but really.. sometimes I could carry a bag they packed with my little finger alone it was so light.

    For ages it perplexed and irritated me, especially as Australia in general is pretty green, and the method doesn’t lend itself to bringing your own bags. Finally I started plucking up the courage to request I pack my own bags to which they oblige with varying degrees of odd stares and always seem to hand me each item as it’s scanned instead of just popping it at the end of the counter!

    What I frustrate myself over every single day is why don’t all people think like us? It doesn’t really require much effort does it? Just a little change to the hardwiring of the brain to get it to think green on auto pilot. Better stop here or I’ll depress myself 🙂

  25. Jane says:

    It is so wonderful to not have a kitchen cupboard that the plastic carrier bags jump out of when you open the door! More space for something else.

  26. Jane says:

    I remember the time that the assistant in T J Hughes would not let me have my item unless it was put in a bag (I know because I was getting pretty frustrated and asked outright). The reason was so the security people wouldn’t think I’d knicked it. In the end I accepted the bag then took my item out again, left the bag on the counter and told her I’d accept the risk. I’m hoping things have moved on a bit since.

  27. Georgina says:

    What really annoys me is that M&S charge for their carrier bags yet they have boxes full of plastic cutlery for people to take for free by their doors!

    Another annoying this is when people ask you if you want a bag at the beginning of the item scanning process (no thank you) and then (perhaps forgetfully) ask you again at the end.

    Still not as annoying as M&S…

  28. Jane says:

    @Georgina: I really don’t see why they don’t charge for this. I’m sick of people saying that I shouldn’t worry about something because it is ‘free’. There is no such thing – it is costing the earth. They haven’t made an agreement to not to give out free plastic cutlery whereas they and other companies who have signed up to the Courtauld Commitment have agreed to reduce the use of carrier bags.

  29. Jane says:

    Today I had to fling my arm across the orange bags to stop the assistant automatically putting my shopping in one again. My first words on approaching the till were “Hello, I’ve got a bag, thank you”.

  30. Alex says:

    @Jane: What on earth are receipts for if not to prove you’ve paid for the item? It’s rediculous to say you need a bag as well!

  31. Jane Williamson says:

    OK please bear with me as this is my first ever post !!! i need to’ vent’ and searched the web to find where i could do this, so sorry, it’s here and now! Anyone have any idea how i appeal for the reduction of the use of ‘fat’ plastic unrecyclable bags as used in pasta/cereal/tea etc All bags state currently not recyclable.

  32. Jane says:

    @Jane Williamson: Well as this isn’t something that you can easily take off and leave at the till you there would seem to be a couple of choices send the packaging back to the producer or avoid packaging you can’t recycle (notice how some companies are either not identifying still or no longer identifying their packaging). The new head of Recoup doesn’t know anyone who finds the plastics identification useful. Funny that. I do. The longer they drag their feet the more incinerators we will have to have and they all have to be in someone’s back yard. There is an overprovision in Europe.

    Have you seen this logo?: http://www.brc.org.uk/brc_news_detail.asp?id=1931


    What isn’t clear about this labelling is that it should change as the percentage recylable changes.

    You may of course already be able to recycle something in your local recycling. You MUST check your own Council’s and local supermarkets and other local bring banks etc. It is changing but there is a lot of dragging of feet. We have to show we want it to change.

    Best of all is to send the packaging back with a letter saying why you won’t be buying it again.

  33. Jane says:

    @Jane: Oh and do an energy audit of your home. The excuse will be that we are using too much energy. The more we all look for better solutions to insulate our old housing stock and to reduce our energy consumption eg making sure manufacturers know that is what we are looking for the more options we are likely to get.

  34. Ann says:

    Yes, Jane, I have sent off a number of emails and letters where packaging has been unmarked for recycling. Occasionally, I have had a letter reply, more often I have had an email reply, but only once have I had a useful reply. That marketer informed me that “there has been several enquiries into this, and we are looking into alternatives”. However, so far, no sign of change of packaging!

  35. Jane says:

    @Ann: Mrs Green has a part of her site devoted to letters and replies. I tend to email a company’s website which is a bit of a waste really because I never have a copy of what I’ve written and so cannot follow up. It is better to be more organised! Still it is better to have said something than to sit like a lemon while the amount of unrequested unrecyclable packaging around me builds up around me and I end up paying a fortune in Council Tax for it to be dealt with when I would prefer the money to go to Daycare Centres for those who need help, companionship and respite.

  36. Peter says:

    I am rarely without my ruck-sack and a couple of other ‘bags for life’, so I am constantly turning down offers of free shopping bags. What the hell am I supposed to do with them afterwards?

    I nip out to the local sandwich shop for lunch and buy one item. I have two hands, one of which I can use to hold the item while still having one hand free for emergencies. So no, I don’t need a bag thank you.

    Boots the Chemists are the worst offenders. Buy a packet of pills or a tube of toothpaste and they will put it in a plastic bag about four inches square – barely big enough to hold the product and completely useless as a carrying device.

  37. donald says:

    I work in retail. We don’t offer bags. But I always wondered why people ask for a “small bag”. This request is independent of how large the purchase. Maybe it is deep down they know they are being bad for the earth.

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