Sometimes on the way to your dream,

you get lost and find a better one.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

green bags: a checkout operator's complaint

When environmentally friendly alternative bags were first introduced, I thought they were a great idea. They were sturdy, re-useable, had a rectangular base so it was easy to pack goods into them, and they held so much more than a plastic bag.

But now, after years of using these green bags, I begin to see the problems. Maybe all you Eastern states had the right idea after all?

a) They hold so much more than plastic bags, which makes them much heavier, something you don't really notice at first.

b) Because they hold so much, less bags need to be used. "Pack them as full as you can", says the customer, "I don't mind, the car is close by". Huh, I mind, especially at the end of a long shift...

c) People got so used to throwing away plastic bags, they now don't stop to consider that these alternatives need to be kept clean. Some of the bags we are presented with are quite grubby, some are smelly from leaked meat juices or milk, a couple of times I've handed back really dirty ones and said I couldn't possibly pack groceries into them. Some of the things found in these bags include spider webs, spiders, broken glass, rotting vegetation, usually old lettuce leaves; many bags are covered in animal hairs. Please people, clean your bags. Quite a few reek of cigarette smoke.
Most bags are clean however, and don't present a problem.

d) The variety and size of the bags people bring in can be challenging, I've had bags ranging from handbag size to the giant department store ones usually used to carry home new bedding. Hard to fit those onto the packing rack....
Some are very colourful, bought in many tourist locations all over the world, these are great conversation starters and we hear great holiday stories.
Some are clearly lovingly homemade, even quilted and very pretty.

e) Lots of people still forget to bring their bags with them when they shop.
"They're in the car".
"They're in the other car".
"They're at home".
"I only came in for one thing, didn't think I'd need a bag". This from a customer with a loaded trolley.
We have plastic re-useable bags available at 15 cents each, so they buy these instead. (But they don't re-use them.)

Properly kept; clean and non-crumpled, these bags are an acceptable alternative, but I do wish more customers would realise that over the course of a day, even on a short shift such as I do, we lift many, many bags; it would help us checkout operators greatly if you all had enough bags so that we didn't have to fill them so heavily.


  1. Much sympathy from me. I often think the check out arrangement is ergonomically evil and should be re-designed. Men who don't use the system are obviously behind the whole thing.
    Rotator-cuff injury in the long term is the inevitable outcome. Where is the shop assistants union on this issue?

  2. I always go in for a couple of things and leave with a full trolley...

    I don't use re-usable bags... I like to get plastic bags. We use them here at home for lots of things.

  3. One thing you forgot, the chiller bags with the zippers that break, now that is a pain. I try to help my check out by putting all the chill items together, the vegs together and after years of breaking my back gathering up the cans of cat food from all places in the trolley, I put all cat food in a green bag in the trolley. Such a simple idea and it took me years to get it.

  4. JahTeh, you are a checkout operators dream. Quite a few of my customers do the same, some of them after a little coaching from me. It's handy for us too if multiple or large items are left in the trolley. We don't need to scan really large things, we have them listed on our fresh produce screens, all we do is key in a few letters, eg cat and up comes images of all the cat litter brands for us to select from. Saves lifting. Multiple items? If they're identical, say for instance a dozen 2 litre bottles of coke zero, just give us one and we can key in a multiple amount. Easy peasy.
    Frogdancer, people here still complain that now they have to buy garbage bags where before they used their checkout bags in their kitchen bins. I point out they can buy a roll of small garbage bags and bring those in for us to pack groceries in if they wish, then they can re-use them for their kitchen bins...
    Ann, the shop assistants union says they stand behind us by encouraging the general public to use enough bags to hold their goods, and also encourages us to not pack bags too full or too heavy. If customers complain we are to call our supervisor. Fine in theory, but often enough the supervisor herself is busy on a checkout and when it comes right down to it, who among us is going to argue with a belligerant customer?Thankfully, most customers, I'd say 99%, are helpful and supportive on this issue.
    Yes, you are right about the rotator cuff injury, this is where I got my shoulder bursitis, which isn't getting much better since I have to keep working.....

  5. Ah guilty as charged, I often forget mine especally for that 'on the way home from work' shop but I find I have more red Liquorland bags (says something) so they're smaller and just as effective and I assure you, very, very clean.

  6. I'm the same as Jah Teh - I put all 'like' items together and offer to lift the green bags from the check out operator's side back into my trolley.

    You're right about how grotty the bags get, though. I wonder if they'd be able to take being put through the washing machine?

  7. Yes Kath, they wash very well, just take out the black plastic base first.

  8. Ewwww!!!! That is really gross!!!! I always get nice comments from the checkout operators on how awesome my bags are (hot pink!). :-)