What did People do Before Bags? (And what are some tribal cultures still using today?)
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 which meant our family, close neighbors and the nature we lived in were 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 most 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, packaged foods 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 that 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 as a way for stores to provide a "value added" service to shoppers.
The U.S. uses 60,000 plastic bags every five seconds and 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags every hour.
Our Way of Life Needs to come Back into Balance:
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.
The industrial revolution enabled our lives to become easier through machinery and the widespread availability of different foods, products, energy, and modes of transport, but there have been many unintended and negative consequences for ourselves and the environment.
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 have been 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.