Let’s have a look at the consumer’s best friend – the shopping bag. How has the basic brown sack evolved into its more sustainable counterpart through the years?

Before the late 1800s, shopping bags didn’t even exist. Shoppers either carried their goods home in baskets or had the merchant deliver them to their homes.

Later, in the middle of the 19th century, Francis Wolle, a schoolteacher from Pennsylvania, invented a machine to produce lightweight, envelope-like paper bags.

In 1871, inventor Margaret Knight designed a machine that could produce more spacious flat-bottom bags instead. However, these bags were not able to stand on their own, and in 1883 Charles Stillwell patented brown paper bag with pleated sides, similar to those we see in supermarkets today.

In 1912, Minnesota grocer Walter H. Deubner created the first paper tote bag. He noticed that his customers’ purchases were limited by what they could conveniently carry, so he decided to reinforce a paper bag with cord and handles. The Deubner bags were sold for 5 cents each, the same price most “wholesale outlets” charge these days. Deubner patented his product and within three years, by 1915, was selling over a million of shopping bags a year.

Throughout this time, almost all shopping bags were made of paper. In the 1960s, a Swedish company patented the standard “T-shirt” style plastic bag. Suddenly, plastic overshadows the paper since it is cheaper to produce, and by the 1980s plastic shopping bags became the most popular choice for discount retailers.

environment. Nowadays a wide range of eco-friendly shopping bags such as compostable and biodegradable ones is already available.

While looking for more sustainable and recyclable materials companies will continue to design new innovative packaging to benefit the consumer.


Written by

Liudmila Pape