It’s a paper grocery bag. No, it’s a backpack. Yes, it’s the PaperJohn, a paper shopping bag with straps. No longer will you have to ride home with bags swinging dangerously off your handlebars, or limit your shopping because you’ve run out of fingers to carry your purchases.
Unlike plastic bags, paper doesn’t choke oceans and waterways when it’s dumped and can easily be as strong as a plastic, at least if it doesn’t rain on the way home. The PaperJohn comes from Hamburg in Germany, a country where almost no grocery stores give away plastic bags any more. Instead, you have to buy bags in supermarkets, and they’re not cheap, running at 9-10 Euro cents each, or a dime a piece.
The result is that most folks carry their own bags to the supermarket, and these are usually canvas tote bags that can be washed over and over. They’re often branded by the store, but lots of places give them away too. Companies give away customized canvas bags instead of branded pens or USB sticks. The best part is that they weigh almost nothing and take up little space, so you can carry them with you all the time, ready for a quick emergency dash to the store.
The PaperJohn a standard heavy block-bottom paper bag, the kind with the card flap that reinforces the bag’s base. The straps are made from paper that’s folded to make four-ply strips, and these strips run the whole way around the body of the bag so they won’t tear off.
Giving away ever-fancier disposable bags is clearly less sustainable than reusing the same bag, but the PaperJohn is at least made them tough enough to get your groceries home safe.
Realistically, the PaperJohn is most likely to be adopted by fancy clothing stores. If it’s only used once, then it is arguably worse than the current standard paper bags, because it wastes more material. On the other hand, the PaperJohn is ecologically better than the nylon drawstring bags you get at many sports stores. And on yet another hand (yes, that’s three hands), the nylon drawstring bag is likely to have a longer life after shopping.
The answer, then, seems to be retraining the consumer to refuse store-provided bags and to carry their own. Given the prestige associated with carrying branded designer-label store bags, this might be tricky.