1986: Paper or plastic? The battle of the grocery bags heats up

Posted at 5:30 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 05:30:19-05

INDIANAPOLIS — A battle was brewing at grocery stores throughout the country in the mid-1980s. The once-dominant brown paper grocery bag faced competition from a flimsy newcomer, the plastic bag.

Former WRTV consumer reporter Barbara Boyd set out to investigate the pros and cons of each contender in February 1986.

Boyd found brown bag proponents touting the ability to open each bag with just the flick of a wrist. The bags could stand on their own and were biodegradable too. Paper bags could also be re-purposed, making masks and even wrapping their textbooks.

Some felt the brown paper bag was a supermarket staple as American as apple pie. The plastic proponents touted their bag’s ability to carry things. The plastic bags could also be used to line trash containers.

Cub Foods General Manager JR Cooper told Boyd the paper bags still reigned supreme at his store. That Cub Foods location used about 15 thousand brown bags each day and just 2,500 plastic bags.

You could say the reaction from shoppers was a mixed bag.

“Brown bags because they hold more.”

“Well, the plastic bags are easier to carry.”

“If I load in the brown bags, then it’s a little too heavy. I use the plastic bags for many, many things at home.”