Stop Whining About Supermarket Bags Because This IKEA Solution Is Perfect

Stop Whining About Supermarket Bags Because This IKEA Solution Is Perfect
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For the last month, much of Australia has been gripped in an insane tempest of petulance and stupidity because single-use plastic bags aren’t available in supermarkets any more. This is so first-world problems it’s almost as embarrassing as our national energy policy, but for anyone who is still stressing about this, I’m here to tell you IKEA can save you.

For those who haven’t been keeping up, both Coles and Woolworths have eliminated single-use plastic bags, something that happened quite some time ago in South Australia and the ACT but which has now gone nationwide after various state legislative bans. When shopping in either supermarket, you now need to bring your own bag (gasp!) or pay for a more substantial bag in store (horror!) Each chain tried to soften the alleged blow by offering bags for free during the initial rollout. Both even resorted to offering supermarket reward points if you bought your own, a noble gesture, albeit one that’s unlikely to score you a free flight in the near future.

Yet despite that, we’ve still seen endless whining, with accusations of everything from “virtue signalling” (a generally meaningless phrase) to risks that the bags might harbour bacteria (based at best on a demonstrably unreliable study). While there might be compelling psychological explanations for why people complain about this, obsessing over the non-availability of a thin, flaccid grey sack that often tore even before you left the supermarket demonstrates a profoundly warped sense of priorities.

I’m old enough to remember when supermarkets didn’t give out plastic bags. Options that popped up prior to that included large paper bags (we’re talking close to A3 size), leftover boxes from the goods coming into the supermarket and (ahem) bringing your own string or cloth bags. Plus ça change!

OK, the paper bags were, objectively, a bit shithouse, because they tore if you put anything heavy in them. Leftover boxes worked well, but they’re less common in supermarkets these days because so much stuff comes shrink-wrapped on palettes. They also weren’t friendly to people shopping without a car, which is a growing demographic these days.

But enough about the outrage, what’s the modern solution? If you can’t get organised enough to keep decent bags in your car for big shops, I have zero sympathy, frankly. Unpack your shopping at home, put the bags back in the car. People who shop at ALDI or Costco already do this all the time.

I belong to the no-car brigade, and my supermarket shopping is often done in daily dribs and drabs. But for years now I’ve used an easy portable solution to carrying my goods that means disposable bags aren’t needed: IKEA’s $1.99 KNALLA shopping bag. It’s made of polyester, so it folds down flat into a square that’s smaller than my wallet, meaning it easily pops into a jacket pocket or bag. (That also means you can wash it regularly if you’re a certified germophobe.) If you’re too lazy to fold it, it doesn’t take much more room just crumpled up.

An even bigger advantage, I reckon, is that it has a very generous strap, so if you are loaded up on shopping, you can sling it over your shoulder. That’s something no standard supermarket bag has ever managed. They last for years, as they can’t tear with regular use (unless you take to them with a sharp blade). I keep one in my work bag and one in each of my travel bags, so whenever I’m on the road, I have extra emergency storage to hand. And yep, I use them even when I’m at IKEA, since it’s a store which has long stuck to the no-bags policy.

As Lifehacker readers with long memories will know, I like me a bit of IKEA. But that’s not the only place you can pick up this kind of bag; you’ll often see them for sale in souvenir shops, for instance. Wherever you get one, pop one in your jacket pocket/backpack/handbag and get on with your life.

Angus Kidman is editor-in-chief and frequent flyer guru for comparison site , a former editor for Lifehacker Australia and an unashamed IKEA addict. Follow him on Twitter @gusworldau.


    • Tassie has had this for years also.
      in fact me and a workmate happened to be on the mainland (i was in Sydney, he was in/at? Gold Coast) at the same time earlier this year and we both commented how strange single use plastic bags were to use when we were over there.

  • I just cannot understand why this is an issue. I never used plastic bags and always carried my own.

    Even if you want to be stupid enough that plastic bags wreck the environment, why on earth you want to put your shopping in a flimsy carrier which will fall apart and tear so easily?

    • I just cannot understand why this is an issue. I never used plastic bags and always carried my own.

      That’s right, folks. I’m not affected so I couldn’t possibly imagine the issue.

    • People often don’t like thinking more than one step ahead, are lazy and don’t like to change.

      It forces people to think ahead at least two steps to remember to bring bags which is one great way to annoy them.

      Removing “conveniences” from an adult, is like taking away a small part of a candy from a child.

      I’m not saying we should bring the disposable bags back, this is human nature.

      That being said there also valid arguments made on the flip-side, on how people are now spending more money on things like garbage bags which are also essentially plastic, which also don’t help the environment either

  • The only reson why I’m missing the bags, is I used them for rubbish.
    In a small household of 2, we don’t throw too much rubbish.
    Bunnings used to sell these bins, made for supermarket bags.
    Once I run out of bags, I’m going to end up having to buy rubbish bags, that will not fit in my bins.

    I can’t see the environmental saving..

    • Don’t use bags in your bins. It’s that simple, really. Just put the rubbish in the little bin, and empty it into your kerbside bin every couple of days. If the little bin gets grubby, rinse it out. Then you’re also preventing that bit of extra plastic from heading to landfill.

    • I bought some for the first time since I moved out of the ACT last week. It felt weird and like yourself my bin was shopping bag sized.

      • Yup. Previously, I carried my stuff back from the supermarket, and then used the bags in my bin. Two uses.
        Now I have to buy dedicated rubbish bin bags. Single use.

  • This is a great alternative, cheers for the article! Might pick some up next time I’m at IKEA; worth noting though, the $1.99 price you mention is the IKEA Family price. They’re actually $2.99 to regular folk without families.

  • My gripe is purely about me. I forget things. Like bags.

    I’m in a good position when it comes to shopping, with Woolies being on my direct route, and both Aldi and Coles being a block either way. Like the author I don’t drive, so do my shopping on the way home.

    Which is the problem. I need to remember to grab the bag at home (the easy part) as well as grab it on the way out the door from work. After a day at work, that’s the hard part.

    If I forget I have no alternative than to pay 15c for another bag. Fine, its on me. But eventually, I’ll have so many of those 15c plastic bags that I’ll just be throwing them away. And that solves nothing.

    My gripe is about the complete lack of alternatives. There is no reason they cant have an area with boxes for people to use if they choose, it was a standard option as the author recalls. Or limit the single use bags to just 1 per trip.

    So far, so good. I have a few bags at work, and have only forgotten to grab a bag once when I needed to shop. Which wasn’t a problem, an extra bag right now adds to the stock. But do that a dozen times, and suddenly I have a stack of 15 plastic bags. Which probably means I will be tossing them in the bin – you only need so many.

    • As far as I know, most Woolworths and Coles have a bin for RedCycle – where you can recycle all your soft plastics. I’m like you, I often don’t have my bags on me when I actually duck into the store, so I end up with more bags. I just put them in with my regular soft plastics recycling (such as chip packets, frozen veg bags, etc,) and once a fortnight I’ll take that bag of plastic down to be recycled when I shop.

      RedCycle does amazing things to help reuse all the soft plastic we get every day. Look into it 🙂

  • There was a professor of plastics and polymers on a recent episode of the Infinite Monkey Cage podcast. He came out with an interesting stat – you’d have to use a re-usable back 147 times to offset the single-use bag usage.
    I’m all for re-usable bags, but this made me think.

    • Thanks Phil,

      I find the 147 times factor for reusable bags to off set a ‘single use’ bag, a bit hard to swallow.
      In fact, before the elimination of free plastic bags from Coles and Wooles, who ever referred to them as ‘single use’ bags? Certainly not me., or anyone else I have ever discussed this with.

      They made superb bin liners and had myriad other uses. The only time they were EVER single use in our house was when they were torn in transit from Coles or Woolies.

      Methinks the major supermarket chains got together with a PR firm to coin the phrase, ‘single use’ to offset and minimise the very anger this green promoted and profit enhancing project has inspired.

      Put simply, ‘Single use’ bags degrade in land fill, where they mostly finish up, whereas more rugged ‘multi use, (147 times…really), will stick around for yonks).

      Note: A yonk equates to 2,728 times the degradation rate of a single use bag.

      • There are a few different ratios in play here. First, single use bags that are gone are considered just 1 use. The 15c bags need to last something like 6 or 8 uses before their cost is the same, while the $1 bags are the ones that need to be used the 140ish times. I’d heard 135, but they’re close enough.

        Thing is, that’s all based on those single use bags being used just once. As soon as you use it a second time, the times those multi use bag need to be used doubles. So that 147 times needs to be near 300 for the cost to be equivalent.

        And as you say, many people reuse them as bin liners, so the math quickly works back into single use favour. It quickly becomes more expensive (both financial and environmentally) to sustain the replacements.

        Which in the end means they’re only pushing the issue to the side and turning it into a revenue stream, not fixing the issue of bags being disposed of incorrectly.

        • You are assuming that after ‘single use’ plastic bags are eliminated, every that formerly would have taken a free bag will opt to use one of the sturdier bags. In my, admittedly anecdotal, experience(ACT) this isn’t the case. The majority of the time now when I got to a supermarket (with a car) I don’t use a bag at all, and many other people who are buying groceries through the self-serve checkouts are doing the same. This to my mind is were a large number of plastic bags are ‘saved’ from being used as even the 15c cost is enough to make most people reconsider whether they actually *need* a bag.
          Totally agree though on the benefits being over-sold given the fairly high rate of re-use of ‘single-use’ bags, particularly as an alternative to truly single-use products, like bin-liner bags

          • Fair points. I think the biggest ‘crime’ with the single use bags is that trip to the car, and the trip into the house. A big family shop can have 20 or 30 bags essentially just for convenience, and that’s what generates the excessive numbers.

            That’s not me. I walk about 1.5 kms to work, and Woolies is smack bang in the middle of that. Its easy to pop in a couple of times a week, spend $50, and grab 3 or 4 bags to carry home.

            That’s what the bags are for, not shuttling to and from the car. Its all well and good that people aren’t using bags just to shuttle now, but they could have done that with single use bags. If someones putting their shopping into a cart post-scan, don’t bag it. Alternatively, limit the bags to 1 or 2.

            We’ll get used to the changes, but so much of it seems a knee jerk reaction to me that really doesn’t do much to fix the problem. Its not a good solution. And just makes it worse for the people that genuinely need bags.

  • Why don’t we all start taking off all the shrink wrap and plastic, all packaging and leave it at the supermarkets!! That would make an awesome statement!!!
    I don’t have a problem with bringing my own bags, its a good start for Australia, why not do away with the reusable PLASTIC bags as well!!
    Take a look and learn from European Countries……

  • Has the Swedish chef been mixing in some buds into some mull cookies… $99 service fee to get these bags delivered… and I live Brisbane Metro – someones smoking something

  • If there is a repository in the store(s) to dispose bags which will be sent to be recycled, the shop can/should simply allow shoppers to pick up some of these bags to use for their current shopping trip?

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