Paper Bag Day (also known as World Paper Bag Day) occurs on July 12 each year and celebrates the humble paper bag, which does so much more than carrying our groceries. Today, millions of people choose to switch to paper bags for carrying their shopping, as the widespread use of plastic and its harmful effects on the environment at large, raises alarm bells in our collective consciousness. So how do paper bags aid us in the fight against environmental pollution and climate change? Firstly, paper is biodegradable, which immediately makes it a preferable alternative to plastic, which isn’t. Paper bags are also made of renewable raw materials, which encourage a sustainable lifestyle, as they can be recycled. This gives our environment a bit of a break too. Surprisingly, paper bags can be quite durable, too (except when soggy), and they now have a more upmarket aesthetic appeal thanks to high-end brands popularizing minimal and sustainable packaging. So really, what isn’t to love about paper bags!
History of Paper Bag Day
Though it is unclear who officiated Paper Bag Day, we can surmise that it must have been founded in order to raise awareness about important environmental issues like climate change and to promote a more sustainable lifestyle by introducing paper bags as alternatives to plastic bags.
What we do know is the history of the paper bag itself, which can be traced back to American school teacher-turned-priest-turned-inventor Francis Wolle. In 1852, he invented and patented the first paper-bag-making machine, after which he and his brother founded the Union Bag and Paper Company. They opened a paper plant in Savannah, Georgia, which employed 500 people and became a bit of a tourist attraction, as people would come by to see ‘1,000 feet of paper flying by per minute.’ The plant is still there to this day.
In 1871, Margaret E. Knight decided to refine Wolle’s design by inventing a machine that would produce paper bags with flat boxy bottoms. This improvement earned her the title of ‘mother of the grocery bag,’ as it was the key template for the foldable paper bags we use today. In 1883, Charles Stillwell tweaked Knight’s design further, adding pleated sides to the paper bag in order to make it easier to carry, fold, and store. He invented the machine to produce this design and then, in 1912, Walter Deubener added a cord to reinforce the paper bags and handles for ease of carrying. Thus the final product, which is the paper bag of today, is clearly a combined effort of all these inventors. So we have many to thank!
Paper Bag Day timeline
In Bristol, England, paper bags are manufactured commercially.
Francis Wolle of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, invents the first machine that makes the archetype of the modern-day paper bag.
Luther Childs Crowell patents a machine that makes square-bottomed paper bags.
Margaret Knight is granted a patent for her paper bag machine, which also makes square-bottomed bags with the cut.
Paper Bag Day FAQs
What can you do with old shopping bags?
- Donate them to Goodwill or other shelters.
- Store your recyclables or foodstuff that is to be given away.
- Use them instead of gift bags when gifting.
- Donate them to recycling facilities or charities that can reuse them.
What can I use instead of plastic bags?
- Jute or hessian bags
- Canvas or calico cotton bags
- Reusable paper bags
- Polypropylene ‘green’ bags
Why did we stop using paper bags?
Paper bags can sometimes be bigger than plastic bags, which means that when thrown in landfills, they take up more space. It also takes less energy to recycle plastic bags, as compared to paper bags. Paper bags also require more energy to produce. This being said, though, the effect of paper bags on the environment is far less harmful as compared to plastic bags.
How To Celebrate Paper Bag Day
Switch to paper bags
If you haven’t already done so, there is no better day to make an informed decision to switch to using paper bags for most of your shopping. We’re not asking you to take our word for it, but do the necessary research to find out how paper bags can reduce the use of plastic, help promote sustainability, and protect the earth’s finite resources.
Have fun with paper bags
Paper bags can be fun, too. Many craft activities can be done with kids, utilizing old paper bags. Furthermore, paper bags come in handy due to their alternative uses. For instance, did you know that paper bags work better than wipers to clean windows? Try it and see. Look up the many hacks and uses for paper bags.
Recycle at home
Learn how to recycle your paper bags. If they are still in good condition, store them carefully for reuse. If they are damaged, they can be used in composting, as well as for wrapping food items (like garlic and onions). Find out more at your local recycling center, too.
5 Uses For Paper Bags You’ll Thank Us For Sharing
Less is more, and the minimal look of a package wrapped in paper with a bit of twine makes for an elegantly wrapped gift.
Since paper bags are 100% recyclable (and only take a month to decompose), they’re great additions to compost.
Not only does storing fruit in paper bags ripen them, but it also keeps them in good condition.
Get crafty with paper bags and the kazillion ideas out there for making them fun.
Paper bags work better than cloth on windows — you’re welcome!
Why We Love Paper Bag Day
An important message
Paper Bag Day is all about choosing to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, as we grapple with the all-too-real crises like climate change and globalization. A simple switch from plastic to paper can help make an impact and the best part is that everyone can do it.
It celebrates paper bags
This may be obvious, but how often do we take the time to celebrate seemingly insignificant things that actually can be of major significance in the long run? Paper bags are toxin-free and safe for use, so we’re glad we have a reason to appreciate this invention.
Saving the planet
Want to do your part to ensure that the next generation does not experience doomsday early due to global environmental crises that are making life on earth more of a challenge? Heavy words, we know, but simple, conscious decisions like switching to paper bags and choosing recyclable materials for everyday use are what can help combat these universal challenges and ensure a sustainable future.
Paper Bag Day dates