Dear Paper Bag

Happy Paper Bag Day!!! 12th July is celebrated every year as World Paper Bag Day. It is an initiative to encourage the use of paper bags over plastics because the former is biodegradable and the latter is choking the planet in various garbage dumps across the world. Plastic is killing the ecosystem since it is difficult to dispose of and harms animals too. It takes nearly 50-100 years to decompose plastic! 

Adopting sustainable and eco-friendly materials is the theme of this special day. In essence, it is all about encouraging more people to adopt environmentally-friendly lifestyles. Using paper bags is a part of leading green lifestyles. 

Those familiar brown bags used to pack foods, toys, daily use household items, and myriad other things, always get old-timers (like me) nostalgic. I still remember getting tasty nankhatais from the local bakery in Mumbai, as a child. The shopkeeper lovingly packed in an extra laddu along with the nankhatais in a brown paper bag. Even clothes were wrapped in these bags as shopkeepers found it expensive to buy plastic covers back then. Papers – bags/newspapers were used more often! All of us carried cloth bags or paper bags while going shopping. It was much later that plastic covers flooded markets and cheaper quality bags found their way into homes. By the time the toxicity and biodegradable properties of plastic were found by scientists, it was too late to stop plastics at the time. Plastic had already begun choking the environment, killing land animals and marine creatures as well.

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.
Brown paper packages tied up with strings.
These are a few of my favorite things.”

This is one of my favourite songs from the classic movie “Sound of Music”, which I used to listen to as a child. It played often on my radio. I simply loved the retro music hour back then on All India Radio. Now that I look back, it strikes me how old paper bags are. In the good old days, until plastic made its appearance, paper bags symbolized love and passion while gifting loved ones. Paper bags were indeed one of the favourite things of the bygone era. 

India is taking initiatives to revive paper bags in a big way in a bid to conserve the environment. Most areas have already banned the use of plastic, especially single-use plastics. A country-wide ban on single-use plastics has been on the anvil for a while. Shops and supermarkets have already taken individual initiatives to stop plastic in their shops, encouraging customers to get their cloth bags to carry back wares. The first state in India to ban the use of plastic bags was Himachal Pradesh in 2009 while Maharashtra followed suit, putting a blanket ban on single-use plastics in 2018.

Brown paper trails…

Did you know when the paper bag was invented? Yes, the same brown paper bag is given by pharmacies, shops, and supermarkets nowadays (thanks to the government banning plastics). The first paper the bag-making machine was made by an American school teacher/priest/ inventor Francis Wolle in 1852. Wolle’s design of the paper bag underwent further changes. In 1871, Margaret E Knight invented the machine that added a box shape to the bag. Following Knight’s design, in 1883, pleats were added to the sides of the paper bag by Charles Stillwell to give the bag a shape. After that, the good old paper bag got a cord thanks to Walter Deubener in 1912. People could now hold the paper bag with the cord easily. So, the paper bag we see today is the result of the hard work of these four passionate people. 

Interestingly, the paper bag-making machine factory-made by Francis Wolle and his brother – Union Bag and Paper Company in Savannah, Georgia, is there to date. After going through various mergers, the company United Camp Corporation was finally acquired in 1999 by a company called International Paper located in Memphis (Tennessee, USA). It is still operational.

World on a green drive

Cut to the current year, plastics have become a nuisance and most governments across the world are banning them. Good old brown paper bags are back in vogue. Top brands have lent stylish designs to them and they are in trend now. To make it eco-friendly, paper bags are being made from recycled paper. Recycled paper bags are becoming the norm now.

Social media is abuzz with awareness carousels and slides showing the importance of stopping the use of plastic. Local NGOs in various cities are doing the same. 

So why choose paper bags over plastic bags? Here are a few reasons why one should!

  1. Paper bags are biodegradable
  2. Less energy is needed to manufacture paper than plastic
  3. Paper can be recycled. They are reusable.
  4. Environment-friendly, safer for animals.
  5. You can craft and customize your bags; easy and simple DIYs are available online. 
  6. They are trendy too!

Ideally one doesn’t need a World Paper Bag Day, an Earth Day, Environment Day, Bio-diversity day or similar such days to preserve our Earth. After all our ecosystem is ours and ours alone for all our generations to live peacefully. Let’s take a pledge once and for all and not wait for special days to adopt a green lifestyle. Say No to Plastic Bags, Say Yes to Paper Bags!

Follow Priya Rajendran

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