Paper or Plastic?

I am a firm believer that there is a correct way to bag my groceries. Generally speaking, the cashiers and baggers at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s do a pretty good job, though they tend to overload the bags a bit (hello, I’m small and pregnant and can’t carry this!).

I only go to regular grocery stores under the most severe of conditions. Usually if we need something at rush hour (when parking at TJ’s is impossible) or late at night.

Today I needed some things because my poor husband is sick, sick, sick. Chicken and dumplings. Hot toddy. Needed bourbon and flour. So, Ralphs. 3rd and La Brea. 5:00 in the afternoon. The store was surprisingly not crowded, all things considered. I was tickled pink when two separate men asked me for help in the baking aisle – though I was somewhat irritated that I had no idea how to help them (some domestic goddess, me). There was only one person ahead of me in line.


The cashier asked, “Paper or plastic?”

I answered, “Paper.”

She gave me paper-in-plastic, which is, the last time I checked, paper and plastic and therefore not what I asked for.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I didn’t raise a fuss because the customer behind me had a full cart and I was hungry, but I kind of wish I had.

If I may go all hippie-environmentalist for a minute, paper is from a renewable source and plastic is not.

Also, paper bags are easier to carry and don’t fall over and spill my groceries all over the back of my car.

Why do stores do this? Is it the bagger’s choice or part of training? Should I raise a fuss or just deal with it as part of the package of shopping at Ralphs?

17 thoughts on “Paper or Plastic?”

  1. I was in either Ralphs or Stater Bros. the other night and the cashier asked me paper or plastic. I almost cried! I haven’t heard that asked since I was six. I suddenly felt old. I’m 21. I’m not supposed to feel old yet!

    I wouldn’t bother raising a fuss. Next time stop them before they do the double-bagging and the problem is solved. You’ve done their part and the next person can deal with it if they want to.

  2. I feel your pain – why ask if they aren’t going to listen?
    However, I always ask for plastic because we always reuse them as garbage bags and never buy actual Hefty’s. We save money, and conserve a little. But when I ask for plastic and they interpret that as paper, its a tad annoying.

  3. Yeah, I don’t know what it is at Ralph’s, but they have serious bagging issues. The paper/plastic thing is so strange, and they always underpack the paper bags.

    I’ve had even more issues than that, written them about it (got a $5 gift certificate!), and still, it’s like no one at any Ralph’s can pack a grocery bag the way everyone at every Trader Joe’s can.

  4. i’ve had some trader joe’s checkers load bags in bizarre ways. eggs under heavier objects, wine bottles stacked sideways, etc.

    and i’ve never understand why they always double-bag. seems like trader joe’s should just use stronger bags.

  5. If a store’s paper bags don’t have handles — TJ’s do, for example; Pavilion’s don’t — the paper in plastic makes them easier to carry, especially if you’re trying to juggle a child and several bags at once. I recycle the plastic bags, and use the paper bags in my indoor recycling can to make it easier and cleaner to dump them into the rolling bin. I appreciate paper in plastic.

  6. Actually, plastic is better for the environment overall. Plastic is reuseable, just take your bags back to the store with you and put them in the bins at the entrance. Plus you can use them in your own small trashbags.

    The main reason is paper bags are far heavier than plastic, and the bags need to be transported to the store. That takes tons of fossil fuels, while plastic is like ten times lighter to transport. Also recycling the paper for bags takes a huge amount of energy as well. Plastic is definitely better, as long as you bring the bags back to the store.

  7. That may be, but baggers are far more wasteful when using plastic unless you walk them through it. They’ll load up paper, as I always request. But if I let them use plastic only, they’ll invariably try to get by with one or two items in each plastic bag, then they’ll double the bag. Makes absolutely no sense. I’d rather carry out two fully-packed paper in plastic bags than 10 plastic bags, invariably doubled. The best bet is to bring your own cloth or web bags, as my wife always does.

  8. I Think that the paper / plastic double bagging is for the purpose of adding strenght when you need to walk with your groceries – teh paper handles tear, and the plastinc bags rip at the bottom.

    As for Trader Joes – bag your own – it makes the line go faster as Trader Joes do not have “baggers” – everyone will be much happier – yourself included because your eggs will remain in their shells until you need them and tomatos will remain fruit, not paste.

  9. There’s a simple solution to all of this fuss: BAG YOUR OWN.
    Thank you, Robert, for being the 8th person to comment but only the 1st to suggest such a “novel” idea.
    What is wrong with people that they cannot bag their own groceries? The cashiers are not slaves and do not get tipped for the “service” of bagging your groceries. It suprises me that so many people are concerned about the environmental impact of the paper/plastic debate (kudos to you all), but what makes it acceptable to stand and stare at your groceries while your “servant” cashier forces them down the line before spending 7 minutes bagging the crap while you stare off into space???
    While many grocers have baggers available at the registers to do our dirty work, there are times when one is not available. This is when you have the opportunity to step up and do it yourself. This is not only a humanistic approach, it saves EVERYONE time!
    And please, if your groceries are piling up and you feel holes boring in the back of your head from the line of customers growing exponentially behind you, be a man/woman and just bag it yourself.

  10. I prefer to bring my own. I use the giant blue IKEA bags, they’re great… I think they cost like $1 at IKEA or something.

  11. The cashiers are not slaves and do not get tipped for the “service” of bagging your groceries.

    You’re right. Instead the get “paid” to do the “job” of bagging my groceries. Imagine that.

  12. I usually bring my own canvas bags. I bought a couple at Trader Joes and even Ralphs used to sell them. At Ralphs you get a bag refund for every bag that you bring yourself. I just leave my canvas bags in my trunk of my car so I always have them when I shop.
    L.A. has changed the recycling rules for the blue bins so you can recycle your plastic grocery bags there too.

  13. I always try to bag my own groceries. Not only because I am a control freak about the way I want to bag my stuff (everything has to be super efficiently entered into the bag) but also because I want to be nice and give the cashier a break. I especially love the self-checkout. I wish Trader Joes did that. But I also love talking to the cool folks that work there.

  14. “The cashiers are not slaves and do not get tipped for the “service” of bagging your groceries.”

    Having worked retail, yes, they do. I checked, I bagged.

    So, SK, I guess we can assume you bus your own table at restaurants, box your own popcorn at the movie theater, mix and pour your own martini while sitting at the bar, and make your own half-caf, soy whatever at Starbucks?

  15. I do bag my own groceries – when the store is busy. Otherwise I feel OK allowing the employees to do their job. I know they get paid crap (at Ralphs – I think TJ’s pays fairly well) but I am handing the store money. Part of the reason I avoid regular groceries is the fact that my money is not going toward good working conditions.

    Most importantly (I think), I am always polite.

    I used to bring my own bags but they were stolen along with my car in December and replacing the car was a higher priority. I should replace them, definitely. But of course I never think of it until I am standing in the checkout line.

    I’d forgotten Koga’s story, and now I am wondering…I think I am asked ‘paper or plastic’ fairly regularly. Does this mean Ralphs has revised their policy?

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