The Carrier Bag Game

Memory Monday

On Saturday I had to pick up all the dog leavings in the yard (appropriately, considering that last dream). There was a lot to clean up and I went through quite a few of those plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags.

These guys? Are prolific.

These guys? Are prolific.

While recovering from the admittedly brief PTSD associated with this task, I started thinking about plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags. In London we simply called them carrier bags. Occasionally I still forget which terms are the British ones and which are the American ones when I’m talking, and sometimes I just like the British terms better. Carrier bag is much more efficient to say (even if it is a little redundant and not overly descriptive) than plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags. What do we actually call those things over here, anyway?

Yeah. Anyway. All this thinking about . . . those receptacles . . . made me remember London and this social norm I discovered there which I soon dubbed:

The Carrier Bag Game

(Don’t worry. This is not a blog game, although you can try this at home . . . maybe.)

Maybe people don’t play this in London anymore; I don’t know if you now have to bring your own carrier bags every time you shop or else buy new ones (I know that’s what they do in Ireland, which is where my parents lived more recently than I lived in the UK). But in the late 1990’s such environmentally responsible practices had not yet been established there, as they still have not, for the most part, here. This meant that every time you went to the shops and actually purchased something, you came home with more carrier bags. Soon you were stuffing carrier bags into carrier bags, and then they were overflowing into other carrier bags and every hook in your Cupboard Under the Stairs (assuming you didn’t have Harry Potter living under there) supported at least three carrier bags full of carrier bags.

It was a lot of carrier bags.

So, in an attempt to off-load some of your carrier bags without being entirely environmentally terroristic and just throwing them away, you would carry everything everywhere in carrier bags . . . and hopefully drop them off at someone else’s house. If you were invited to a home for dinner, you would offer to bring something. Even if your hosts said you didn’t need to bring anything, you would still bring something–cake or a bottle of wine or minced pies (I just threw that into the list because I really liked those tiny little store-bought minced pies you can get over there)–just so you could put it in a carrier bag. If you could get away with bringing more than one thing and put each thing into its own carrier bag–well done, you! Then you got to your destination and handed your host or hostess a veritable bouquet of carrier bags full of goodies which, ideally, you originally took home all in one carrier bag.

My flatmate Beth and I got really good at the carrier bag game, but we suffered severe setbacks about once every six weeks when we hosted our English class parties. We worked with refugees, for some churches which ran ESL classes, and every so often we would invite everybody–students, teachers, parishioners, random passers-by who stopped in for the conversation–over to our house for a relaxed informal gathering. Everyone brought food from their own country to share, and we would sit around and talk and play games and laugh and . . . it was always a good time. (Even the time our alcoholic neighbour . . . maybe I’ll write about that next week.)

But there was a problem. The problem was that, although no one ever verbally acknowledged it, everybody in East London played the carrier bag game. And everybody coming to our house for these parties was bringing something. And everybody was frequently quite a lot of people. For six weeks Beth and I would systematically and successfully whittle down our supply of carrier bags to one carrier bag full of carrier bags . . . and then the party. We never won.

What creative ways do you find to use up your carrier bags? Londoners–do you recognise this game? Do people still play it?

In tacit admission of the universal carrier bag problem, you can also buy bags to carry your carrier bags

In tacit–and capitalistic–admission of the universal carrier bag problem, you can also buy bags to carry your carrier bags.


22 thoughts on “The Carrier Bag Game

  1. Hi from London! Yes, it still happens. Although a few shops have started charging for carrier bags, the big players like Tesco still throw them around like confetti. And we still have those fabric tube things you have pictured. Sad, isn’t it!

  2. I don’t know how it’s goin’ in London now, but in most of the west and middle European countries there is a fashion to carry a “ecologic bag” with you. Doesn’t mean there’s no carrier bag problems anymore though…

    I think that your system, as you noticed yourself, is not that good really. It’s a closed circle. The bags you give come running back to you. In double dose! I made a post about re-using plastic bags. The idea was to use them as wrapping paper. And it turns out to be very effective.

    • We actually have those ecological bags over here, too, and they’re great, except that I never remember to use them! And actually, Paul and I now have an under-the-sink rubbish “bin” that isn’t a bin–it’s just a hanger for a carrier bag into which you deposit the rubbish. So our carrier bags at least get used one more time before getting tossed.

      One amazing use of carrier bags I’ve seen is to crochet them together to make an ecological bag! I don’t know how to do it, though.

  3. I’ve never heard the term “carrier bags,” but I do seem to end up with lots of them even though I have a nice collection of reusable canvas grocery bags. We use the little bags as trash bags for the little trash cans in the house, so we are recycling them a bit. šŸ™‚

  4. I have finally started putting most of them in the recycling directly.
    If you roll them they take up less space.
    They will work for sandwich bags, wet or soiled children’s clothing, wrap up a meat package before throwing it out so it doesn’t smell (or eggshells), store and sort possessions, cut up for art projects, garbage can liners…

  5. The carrier bag game — love it! šŸ˜€

    I use some of mine for the “dog leavings” and the “cat box leavings”, too. The rest get bundled up every so often and returned to a nearby grocery store, which recycles them.

  6. “If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life,” so the saying goes: but I think that was coined in days of yore, when you got off the tube (London Underground), blew your nose in your nice clean hankie, and didn’t recoil in horror at the black shite despoiling the whiteness (because it wasn’t there). I was born and raised a Londoner, but nothing on this Eaarth would encourage me to live there, ever again.

    As for carrier bags/ grocery bags/ plastic bags: they are simply evil.

    Just Say No.

    • I loved London. I still love London. It was just time to move on.

      As to carrier bags being evil . . . you’re probably right. I hate to have to confess to being part of an evil but . . . at this moment in spite of my best efforts, I still am. That might be what my spiritual formation class is for. Learning how to say no to carrier bags.

  7. Ah ha. The carrier bag game !! You can get rid of 5 in one go Jenn. Put one bag inside of the other to make it stronger and 3 folded neatly at the bottom to rest your gift and tell your friend that the gift is precious if asked about the bags šŸ˜€
    Or take all your bags around to a friend and tell her “I know you have dogs, so I thought these may come in handy for you”. How can your friend not refuse. hehe šŸ˜€
    Big hug. Ralph xox

  8. hahahahaha… yes i play this game in Dubai too. all the supermarkets give these away for free (although one has started charging for a bag just to be a little environmentally conscious) and they are good ones too. I tried to find ways to make crafts out of them, but couldnt. I just save them up for dirty diapers. šŸ™‚

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