What did People do Before Bags?

Humans have been around for the last 200,000 years and most of those years we did not need or use single use plastic or paper bags.

For much of our human history we have lived a very simple and basic lifestyle. We grew our own food, gathered edible plants, and hunted or fished to sustain ourselves. Traveling just a few miles was a long trip and so our family, close neighbors and the nature we lived in tended to be our main sources for understanding the world around us.

Depending on the period of time in history, people used different things to carry and store their belongings and food.  Until recently, people always used natural and reusable options. 

How Did People Carry Their Food?

In the past, consumers would carry their items home in reusable containers, cloth sacks, and baskets. Before stores existed and carrying food home was an issue, people had farms and used wooden crates, woven baskets or wagons to collect their harvest.  It was not until 1977 that plastic single-use bags were actually introduced into our society for transporting items home.

How did people previously store their food?

Historically people used cloth bags, hand-made wooden crates, pottery and glass jars to carry and store various goods including food.

The original containers people used, before paper and plastic, were made out of natural, biodegradable materials they found in nature.

Very early in time people consumed food where it was found (or grown). Families and villages were self-sufficient, making and catching what they used. When containers were needed, nature provided gourds, shells, and leaves to use.

Later, containers were fashioned from natural materials, such as hollowed logs, woven grasses and animal organs.

 As ores and compounds were discovered, metals and pottery were developed, leading to other packaging forms.




Preserving Food is Ancient:

Fruits and vegetables were dried in the sun or on an open stove. By 1000 BC, the Chinese were using salt, spices, and smoking to create a sterile environment for different food products.

North American Indians dried the meat of buffalo or deer and then mixed it with a large amount of fat. This was effective because the fat presumably excluded oxygen.The Incas stored their potatoes and other foods high in the mountains in freezing cold temperatures.

Single Usage and the Industrial Revolution:

Plastic grocery bags have only been around about 40 years. Considering our historical ability to thrive without plastic and paper bags, how do we explain and justify why we currently use and cannot live without our collective 500 billion plastic bags a year and their pollution?




Over the last hundred years we have perfected the art of destroying all of our forests for paper consumption – how can we justify that?



When humans shifted from the Agricultural Period into the Industrial Period, our entire purpose and relationship to life shifted.  In the last 200 years, we have created "convenience" and a much physically easier lifestyle (for first world countries) with running water, home heating and cooling, appliances, roads, cars, railways, and lots and lots of products!  The industrial revolution was an incredibly significant period as the standard of living increased for the masses. 

One of the deepest effects of industry though, especially in the U.S., is that convenience and buying stuff has become a central part of our culture.  We feel that buying and having stuff is more important than the impact manufacturing, transporting, and decomposing that stuff has on the land, air, and water. Plastic and Paper bags are provided free of charge and have been promoted as the easiest and best option, but this is simply not true.

The U.S. uses 60,000 plastic bags every five seconds and 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags every hour.





In the days before bags, and all the stuff we put in our bags, our lives were more difficult in many ways, but our planet was pristine with very little impact from humans.

We must stop ourselves from furthering our destructive habits. They are indeed merely habits and habits can change.

Going back to simpler times and simpler methods is a good thing in most regards.

We have to ask ourselves if we are happier now, with our quick and easy, throw-away lifestyle? Will our children be happier as the planet falls into deeper and deeper crisis?

We can effectively halt, or perhaps even reverse, the damage done by making small changes, like reusing instead of continuing the single-use practice we were trained to think is better. Reusable bags, like those offered by Hands On Hemp, are meant to be reused for a long time without adding more waste to our planet. This is just one small solution to a much bigger problem.


  1. Issues of Plastic
  2. Issues of Paper
  3. Your trash footprint

History of grocery stores in America

Before large corporate supermarkets, there were family-owned, co-ops, general stores and trading posts. Before stores, people grew their own food or hunted and gathered it. How did we get from there to here?

  • 1859: The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company were established. Grocery stores of this era tended to be small (generally less than a thousand square feet) and also focused on only one aspect of food retailing.

  • I916: Piggly Wiggly stores were established in Memphis, widely credited with introducing America to self-service shopping. Self-service stores came to be known as “groceterias” due to the fact that they were reminiscent of the cafeteria-style eateries that were gaining popularity at the time.hopping,

  • 1920s: Chain stores started to become a really dominant force in American food (and other) retailing. Small regional chains such as Kroger, American Stores, National Tea, and others began covering more and more territory. Most of these stores remained small, counter service stores, often staffed by only two or three employees, with no meat nor produce departments. Some still offered delivery and charge accounts, although most chain stores had abandoned these practices.

  • 1926: Charles Merrill, of Merrill Lynch set in motion a series of transactions that led to the creation of Safeway Stores. Growth by merger became common in the late 1920s and 1930s, and led to numerous antitrust actions and attempts to tax the chain stores out of existence.
  • 1920s: Some chain grocers were experimenting with consolidated (albeit still rather small) stores that featured at least a small selection of fresh meats and produce along with the dry grocery items. In Southern California, Ralphs Grocery Company was expanding into much larger stores than had been seen before in most of the country.

  • 1930: Michael Cullen, a former executive of both Kroger and A&P, opened his first King Kullen store, widely cited as America’s first supermarket. The emphasis was on volume, with this one store projected to do the volume of up to one hundred conventional chain stores. The volume and the no frills approach resulted in considerably lower prices.

  • Late 1930s:  A&P began consolidating its thousands of small service stores into larger supermarkets, often replacing as many as five or six stores with one large, new one. By 1940, A&P’s store count had been reduced by half, but its sales were up.

  • 1950s: The transition to supermarkets was largely complete, and the migration to suburban locations was beginning.

  • 1960s: Is seen by many as the golden age of the supermarket, with bright new stores opening on a regular basis, generating excited and glowing newspaper reports, and serving a marketplace that was increasingly affluent.

  • 1970's: Discounters and Warehouse Stores became the norm. Numerous stores around the country embarked on discounting programs at about the same time, most of which centered around the elimination of trading stamps, reduction in operating hours, and an emphasis on cost-cutting.

  • 1980s and 1990s: Upscale Stores, Warehouses, and Mergers of smaller stores. The middle range began to disappear, albeit slowly, as mainline stores went more “upscale” and low end stores moved more toward a warehouse model, evocative of the early supermarkets of the 1930s. Many chains operated at both ends of the spectrum, often under different names.

 From "A Quick History of the Supermarket" – Groceteria.com.