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.