A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the sofa on a Monday evening while my partner packed his gym kit to take to work the next day.
Little did I know the experience would soon turn into a viral internet sensation.
I noticed that the carrier bag he was putting his shorts and t-shirt into was, to say the least, looking slightly weathered.
What a carry on: My partner’s ancient plastic bag unexpectedly struck a chord on social media
A River Island number, it used to have a brightly-coloured photo of two models posing in the brand’s clothes. But years of use had degraded it to the extent that the figures were barely recognisable, resembling something a bit like TV static.
So just how old was it? I was shocked when he told me he had been using it for at least a decade. If his memory serves, he got it when he bought a faux leather jacket some time back in 2013.
I was impressed. I do my best to re-use carrier bags, but I don’t think many have survived more than a couple of years of regular use.
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The next day I took to Twitter and posted a picture of this relic, praising my other half for his eco credentials. After all, he had truly taken the concept of a ‘bag for life’ to the extreme.
It got a couple of ‘likes’ and I went to bed that night thinking little more of it.
But by the next morning, something had happened that I never expected. The bag had gone viral.
The retweets and likes kept rolling in for days. It was eventually seen by 1.8million people, and liked 56,000 times. For context, my average number of likes is about four.
It was also re-posted by a popular account on Instagram, and racked up nearly 140,000 likes there.
People’s reactions were interesting. Some said I should marry him immediately, a sentiment which I don’t fully understand but will take on board.
Others compared him to the Coronation Street character Roy Cropper, known for his indestructible blue tote bag, or an eastern European grandmother.
Many were keen to know how it has lasted so long – and some even questioned the veracity of my claim. I can now answer that question for the bag’s many fans.
My partner’s answer is that it is largely used as a ‘bag within a bag’ – holding his gym kit which he then packs into his rucksack, to later be deposited in his work locker.
And it is only used for clothes, rather than anything heavy or with the kind of sharp corners which spell the end for many a plastic bag.
I’m still not sure why the bag caught the zeitgeist – but I’d like to think it is because most of us have an ancient carrier that they are still clinging on to – or at least know someone that does.
Or maybe it is nostalgia. As silly as it might sound, digging up bags from years past with their once-familiar logos brings back memories.
For example, when I was at school in the early 2000s, stuffing your PE kit in a Topshop or Jane Norman bag (both retailers now no more) rather than a boot bag or backpack was genuinely considered the height of fashion.
My nostalgia theory is backed up further by the fact that ‘vintage’ carrier bags from the likes of Woolworths, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are now being sold for serious sums on Ebay.
The most expensive one I found was a Playstation bag from the 1990s, which is being sold for a whopping £74.99 – but even a humble Asda bag could net you £15.
Nineties nostalgia: This Playstation carrier bag is being sold on Ebay with a £74.99 price tag
Master stroke: Someone is charging £49.99 for a ‘rare’ HMV bag from the 1970s
Setting a record? A 1980s plastic bag from Woolworths could also command a high price
‘Permanently low prices’: Even a standard Asda bag is going for £15 on Ebay
‘Vintage’: A classic Tesco carrier bearing the red and blue logo could go for £6.95
Of course, carrier bag use is now in decline – and rightly so – given their disastrous impact on the environment.
The Government claims that the UK’s big supermarkets handed out 197million single-use carrier bags in 2021-22, down from 7.6billion in 2014. We are firmly in the era of the cotton tote bag.
But while it might be frowned upon to buy a new plastic bag, I think making use of the same one for years – decades even – is something to be celebrated.
Indeed, River Island celebrated my tweet – by sending my partner a £50 voucher, which he was delighted with.
Old bag: Reader Michael says this one dates from the late 1980s – and is still going strong
Have YOU got a vintage carrier bag?
Inspired by the massive response to my tweet, I’m now intrigued by the other vintage gems that are lurking in the UK’s kitchen cupboards.
That’s right – I’m on the hunt for the UK’s oldest plastic bag.
The one to beat so far is this specimen (right) from the long-defunct supermarket chain Victor Value. It was sent to me by reader Michael, who thinks it dates from around 1988.
Do you have one that’s older – or another stalwart carrier that you are particularly proud of?
Perhaps it is from a firm that has long gone out of business, or brings back a special memory?
Dig deep into your ‘bag of bags,’ as I would love to see it – and will compile the best ones in a future article.
You can send it to me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
A HISTORY OF THE CARRIER BAG
1933 Polythene, the plastic used to make most carrier bags, is invented by accident in Northwich, Cheshire. Scientists at the ICI Wallerscote factory were working on polymers when an experiment went wrong, producing a waxy, white residue
1938 ICI perfects its formula and starts making polythene on an industrial scale. It is used in World War II to insulate radar cables.
1950s Polythene is used to make the ‘it’ toy of the decade, the hula hoop
1965 Swedish company Celloplast trademarks the first polythene carrier bag. It is initially popular in Europe and later spreads to the US and elsewhere
Late 1980s By this time, the plastic bag has largely replaced paper and other reusable bags across the world
1997 Sailor Charles Moore discovers the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge stretch of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean. This draws attention to the danger plastic waste poses to the environment
2002 Bangladesh is the first country to ban single-use plastic bags, after they clogged drains and exacerbated serious floods earlier that year
2015 The UK Government puts a 5p carrier bag charge in place in supermarkets
2021 The plastic bag charge is increased to a minimum of 10p, and extended to all types of businesses
Source: UN Environment Programme