Whenever our doorbell rings during mid-afternoon, it is pretty certain that our mail woman (that’s not a transgender expression) has left us a package. Well, this past Wednesday the parcel she left elicited more despair than excitement. You see, the brilliant new product idea, which I had submitted to an esteemed local firm, had been returned to me, unopened, marked “Return to Sender.”
So now, I’m offering the same idea to anyone with a sewing machine and a little gump. What I’m proposing is a superior form of grocery bag that will help save the planet, bring smiles to users’ faces, and make someone (hopefully in the U.S.) a pile of money.
Today you can find paper, plastic and cloth grocery bags, but here in the not-too-concerned Midwest, the wretched little plastic ones seem to dominate. There are several drawbacks to these curses on our civilization. Foremost is that single-use plastic bags constitute a huge use of petro-chemicals, but also are almost by description expected to land haphazardly in a landfill or worse. When archeologists make their way through Fort Wayne 300 years from now, they will most likely find your grocery bags right where you left them — with scarcely a molecule having returned harmlessly to nature.
There are other objections to these curses. They don’t hold much, you’ll notice: only 44 cups of biodegradable packing peanuts as compared with 100 cups for the traditional paper grocery bag. And smaller capacity means even more of the little rascals being foisted on you by your neighborhood grocer. Personally, I think baggers are being offered bonuses for any increase they can manage in plastic bag usage. It is not unusual for them to pack a single item in its own bag. If the item is heavy, they will double bag it, and with any luck, two or three empty bags will remain attached to the ones that are partially loaded with your groceries. There is also a growing trend to separate cleaning products from edibles. Do we really think there will be a leech of bleach into our lemonade? And if there was, think what you could save on those expensive dental whitener products.
The little rascals are floppy, too. The old-fashioned paper bag would stand up straight and let you load or unload it conveniently, but the plastic one just lies there. Only in the area of moisture resistance does the plastic bag have any advantage over its forbear. That, and perhaps some tear resistance.
Of course, some progressive communities have outlawed plastic bags and perhaps paper ones as well, instead requiring long-life reusable cloth bags which the user purchases and then brings along for each visit to the grocery. These may solve all the environmental problems, but fall short of the ideal. For one thing, most cloth bags still fail in the capacity department, averaging 76 cups of peanuts. Then, too, the cloth bags you can buy around here are made in China and have all the visual appeal of a Goodwill reject. Who really wants to be seen schlepping two or three lime green and rose colored bags around, which proclaim the names of over a dozen supermarket chains from across the nation?
If something truly superior to the abhorrent plastic bag is ever going to take over in places like Fort Wayne, it is going to have to overcome not only the failures of paper and plastic bags, but present-day cloth ones as well.
What I am proposing is this: a sturdy, long-lasting cloth bag that is exactly the same size, shape and color as the old paper grocery bag, even down to the saw-toothed trim at the top. This world-beating bag would hold 100 cups of peanuts and would be sewn or reinforced in such a way that it could stand up on your counter or table, but could still fold to a convenient compact size. Of course, it could be laundered as needed and would obviously serve to contain any number of household items other than groceries. If the entrepreneur who eventually takes on this challenge later needs some new product perks, optional additions could include closure flaps, straps or handles, and interior insulation layers. The sky, or the earth, is the limit!
Just think: As a user you could carry something cool, clean, retro and functional. You could hold your chin high, knowing that you are part of the solution. Some users might even choose to personalize their bags with graphics or sewn-on identifiers. I could go on and on, but I think I just heard the doorbell.
Richard B. Hatch is a resident of Fort Wayne.