Swiss Saturday: Reusable Shopping Bags

The Swiss are big on using reusable shopping bags. They are always for sale–about $2 for a sturdy plasticky-cloth bag and $0.30 for a paper bag. There are times when those plastic disposable bags are available, but they’ve recently started charging $0.05 for those.

I read about reusable shopping bags in America and how they are so dangerous because of E. coli and blah blah blah and I have to laugh. Would Swiss people use something dirty? Of course not. So, how is it that the entire nation hasn’t died a horrible death due to dirty shopping bags?

This, I believe, is what makes the difference. Unlike in the US, where meat is wrapped in plastic wrap that sometimes drips, Swiss meat comes in these neatly sealed packages. If you buy meat from the butcher counter they wrap and seal it. Even meat from the discount grocery store is packaged this way.

So, the result is, you aren’t contaminating your vegetables or baked goods with meat because everything is sealed up nicely.

So, I laugh at the arguments about reusable shopping bags in the US and say, “It’s not the bag that’s the problem, it’s that you people don’t know how to wrap meat!”

Now, I realize, it would be obscenely expensive to change how meat packaging plants package meat, but that doesn’t change the fact that the problem is not with the bags but with the meat.

That’s not to say that bags can’t pick up bacteria from other sources. (Not that the Swiss actually believe in bacteria!). We do wash our bags from time to time. At least I do.

And on another note, the Swiss Frank and the US dollar are pretty close, so if you’re looking at prices on that chicken, yes I paid about $13 for less than a pound of chicken. This may also be why Swiss people are skinnier than Americans–we can’t afford food around here.

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18 thoughts on “Swiss Saturday: Reusable Shopping Bags

  1. Another post hitting right to the heart of a major human resources problem: shopping bags and meat in Switzerland.

  2. As someone who works at a hunger relief organization, I find your last sentence to be in poor taste. I would hope you would be more tactful in the future.

  3. As I live in the NYC metro area where they are contemplating taxing us on plastic bag use because of pollution effects, I have wondered what I would have to do to get my perishables home without soiling the reusable bags. Yes, you are right, perishables are wrapped poorly here in USA ad it doesn’t help when customers throw the packages around with abandon, only caring about finding the best looking product. The wrapping station used in stores has been the same since the 1980’s which works best with the heavier cellophane wrap doubled sealed, but for cost saving on supplies, the lower weigh cellophane is used with a single wrap. The packaging you showed (however pretty) are done in USA in an off facility which means the meat in those packages are not cut on premise. That kind of wrapping uses a combination of vacuum sealing and heavy cellophane with no human contact once product is placed into bottom part of package. I tend to avoid those packages despite the better seal because that meat has extra by-products in chemicals for preservation added in. I am slowly switching to getting my meat from Butcher Box who use only grass-fed products. Every piece is individual sealed in a vacuum pouch by portion. Once I figure out exactly my needs,( I have a son who eats different size portions than me) I will only buy meat from them. Back to being taxed for plastic bags, I will pay the money to bring the perishables home in plastic as I put the bags in the recycle container immediately and will use the reusable bags for all dry. I don’t know how you clean these bags as the ones I have, don’t stand a chance in a washer being their are made of recycled material. All they are, in my mind, is a short-term reusable bag. Even those cotton totes, you see people using, don’t work well if washed, as material is not meant to be cleaned enough to remove the germs people are worried about.

    1. You’ll have to see if they charge for the bags at the meat counter or not. I use the plastic bags from the roll at the meat counter to put around my meat. I haven’t switched to cloth bags yet but I know what you mean about not really being washable. I haven’t figured out the best type of bag yet.

  4. While some of these Swiss posts are interesting, I don’t think I want to read them any more. Sure things are different there. You get to wake up every day without being afraid for your life. We are living in fear here as our rights erode. Each day there is more terrible news. I’m not trying to be rude, just saying why it rubs me the wrong way.

  5. Swiss Saturday posts are my favourites – keep them coming!

    I check in specially to get them.

    They provide an example of cultural assumptions that I think applies really well to HR – things which seem “normal/ordinary, of course you’d know that” are actually quite culturally dependent. .

    1. Living abroad and traveling as much as possible has taught me that culture influences almost all that we do. You can’t recognize it because it’s just how things are done until you run into someone else who does it differently.

      I’m glad you enjoy the Swiss Saturday posts. I intend to keep writing them!

      1. I think this is why I love meeting and talking to people, just in general, to find out how assumptions or cultural things we do in a certain way are different. They can change from country to country, state to state, and family to family. For example, my entire family (quite large) uses a spoon to get jelly out of the jar. I first ran into someone using a knife for jelly (knife is peanut butter only in my family) while in college and it blew my mind. First, how do you balance the jelly on the knife, and second, why are you putting the dirty peanut-butter knife into the jelly jar? Ick! 😉

        I love these posts, because they often challenge my thinking in different ways–many times even beyond what you’ve mentioned in the post! Talking to my coworkers from different countries is often the best part of my day, because I always learn something knew or come away thinking hard about “how we do things” being the “right” way.

        1. Jessica,

          That reminds of my college roommate, Freshman year. She was genuinely shocked that we didn’t all have tacos every Friday night. Friday night is taco night! How could we not know that!

          So funny.

    2. I love Swiss Saturdays, too – even the ones that are less illuminating and just amusing.

      It is amazing what we take for granted as “just the way things are done.” I remember spraining my knee on a hiking trip in Switzerland years ago, and being floored that I couldn’t just waltz into a pharmacy and grab some ibuprophen and a knee brace. The pharmacist insisted on talking to me before handing over a basic neoprene sleeve.

  6. Count me as one who loves these Swiss posts! They are interesting to read and not a typical “travel guide.”

    Keep them coming!

  7. I really like being educated about the Swiss way. I’m curious. Please keep up the Swiss Saturday posts !

  8. The real issue with the reusable bags is that people don’t wash them. If you run them through the laundry between uses, it doesn’t matter how well (or poorly) your meat is wrapped.

    (Also, those reusable bags take between 30 and 200 times as much energy to manufacture, so the average shopper has to use them for about four years to break even on that. And they take a lot longer to break down in a landfill, too.)

    1. But if your meat is packed poorly then you have to be careful about how you pack your groceries the first time.

      I’m not at all convinced that reusable bags are the key to environmental bliss, either. But I do like how the meat is packaged here.

  9. I’m near NYC and the measly five cent tax was seen as hurting the “poor.” Not only is five cents nothing here, but I dislike the assumption that lower income folks don’t care about the environment or are too lazy or dumb or whatever to use reusable bags. Or reuse the plastic they have. I cringe whenever I’m in a deli and the clerk puts one thing in a plastic bag. A bagel does not need a plastic bag. A bottle of water with a handle does not need a plastic bag. If the plastic bag does not make the item any more convenient to carry or the item less likely to spill there is no need for it. Not to mention that grocery store clerks are afraid of customers complaining about how they bag so most under utilize bags or double or triple bag things that only need one bag.

  10. Totally enjoy the Swiss posts as I lived in the French part for almost 10 years, before moving to California. Please keep them coming.

    On a side note, can you please edit the spelling for the currency to “Swiss Franc”?

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