990: Plastic Bags

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Plastic Bags
The high I feel when I actually remember to bring my reusable bags to the store--and take them inside rather than leaving them in the parked car--can last for days.
Title text: The high I feel when I actually remember to bring my reusable bags to the store--and take them inside rather than leaving them in the parked car--can last for days.


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This comic is commentary on how grocery stores try to give you as many plastic bags as possible (and in the end frame, it appears they double bag the reusable bag, which shouldn't really need its own bag at all, let alone two.)

For whatever reason, the stores love to give you as many plastic or paper bags as possible, but if you bring your reusable bags, they try to pack all your stuff into as few bags as possible so that they can save the store 5 cents because they only give you credit for the "bags you used". Even though you brought 4 bags and the bagger stuffed all your things into 3 bags that are impossible to lift. But, hey, if it saves 5 cents for the company, it is worth annoying your customers that have to walk through the city with 3 awkwardly heavy bags!


((not a character; just a colon in a normal sentence))

Fun Fact: Stores have a competition to see who can spread your items across the most plastic shopping bags

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[5 items placed in a single bag; heaviest item placed at the bottom]

Shopper: Thanks!

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[Same items; heaviest item now placed in separate bag]

Shopper: Oh, that's easier to carry.

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[Heavy item is now double bagged]

Shopper: Double-bagging the big stuff makes sense...

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[the other 4 items are now split into 2 separate bags]

Shopper: That's a bit wasteful...

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[The 2 separate bags are now double bagged]

Shopper: You just put five items in six bags.

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[Every item is now in its own, double-bagged bag.]

Shopper: OK! I give up! I'll buy a reusable bag!

Bag Packer: Here you go!

[Reusable bag is double-bagged]

Shopper: Augh!

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This time the lesson I learned came mostly from alt-text. The high we can experience from helping the world can last for days indeed, way better and healthier then drugs, want to try it? - e-inspired 15:45, 27 February 2013 (UTC)

You make it sound like it's an either/or choice. 08:02, 26 April 2013 (UTC)

As a former service cashier/bag filler I can confirm that there is a counterpoint, customers with reusable bags who will absolutely refuse to use any plastic bags whatsoever, no matter how ridiculously overful their bags become, and no matter how much of a bad idea it might be ("Yes, sure, lets put your hot chicken in with the ice cream, along with the crusty laundry powder box on top of the soft fruit! I can't see how this could possibly go wrong!").Pennpenn (talk) 04:11, 14 February 2014 (UTC)

The comic, and to even greater degree its explanation, is really confusing for a non-American like myself. Some "stupid" questions about shopping groceries in the U.S.:

  • Don't customers bag their own groceries?
  • Are plastic bags for free (for the customer)?
  • In that case, what is the incentive for the practice in the comic?
  • Do you get a rebate if you bring your own bag(s) instead?
  • If so, why don't simply charge for the bags provided by the store?

To put this in perspective: In Sweden, and I think most of the EU, plastic bags are the single most profitable commodity in a store. They sell for around 25 cents and are bought by the store for maybe 5 cents so the margin would be around 400%. The customer gets no help packing them (all cash desks have two compartments so you pack while the next customer's items fill the other compartment). Thus, the salesman wants to sell bags and often asks "Do you need a bag?" (but is polite enough not to try to sell more bags than necessary). The customer, on the other hand, wants to fill the bags maximally, and often brings his own bags.

Could someone with global insights on packing customs improve the explanation, to make it work internationally? Mumiemonstret (talk) 15:48, 13 June 2014 (UTC)

Two incentives working here. The first is that the cashier (or bagger, or in some places the customer) is bagging items in the order they're scanned, and often has neither space nor time for setting things aside and coming back to them. Combine that with things that shouldn't be bagged together, and you get people changing bags when the type of product coming down the line changes, even if there's plenty of room left. The other is that the bags are flimsy, so people tend to err on the side of caution when judging how much weight they can hold. (Would I rather take an extra bag, or risk having to chase cans around the parking lot when the bottom falls out? Or, as a cashier, do I want to risk getting yelled at by the customer who had that happen?) 05:10, 6 September 2015 (UTC)
In most stores in the US, the cashier bags your goods. A handful of grocery stores have the customers bag their own items. Bags are free for the customer. Some stores will give a small refund if you bring in reusable bags. It's not really a "practice" in the sense of a formalized policy to use as many bags as possible. But some cashiers do seem to have a tendency to use excess bags. I think it's because it's often easier to get another bag than to rearrange items to fit more into the bag, plus the desire to avoid overloading them. So, it's more laziness than a formal practice CVictoria (talk) 18:09, 19 July 2014 (UTC)

I addressed the complaint about the 5 cent bags and explained the title text. Is it good now? 05:36, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

I've done my best to completely overhaul the explanation, which a particular eye towards explaining our "peculiar institution" of providing plastic bags (and baggers) in the U.S. If something doesn't seem to make sense or merits additional explanation, please let me know. Orazor (talk) 11:00, 12 August 2014 (UTC)

In some places in Argentina (it varies from state to state) the disposable plastic bags where banned completely, they sell (relatively cheap, like 3 pesos or so) a reusable plastic bag, wich is also oxi-bio-degradable so if it exposed to sun+water+air will degrade with time. But normally you try to use your own bags, or sometimes, carton boxes from the store itself. 18:30, 13 December 2016 (UTC)

Continuation: 5 double-bags, placed into a big double-bag. 10:14, 24 January 2018 (UTC)