Paper Or Plastic – German Roaches & The Brown Bag Effect

Those of us who’ve been around for awhile can tell you that the phrase “paper or plastic” was one of the most welcome sayings in pest controls history. At least when it comes to german roaches that is. ‘Recyclable’ brown paper bags were the mainstay of carting groceries for years and these semi durable cartons were hardly ever thrown away once they served their main purpose. Instead, homeowners usually folded these bags up and found the most convenient, ready to use & out of the way places to store them. It was here they’d sit sometimes untouched by human hands for years. You’ll notice I said “untouched”, not uninhabited. Some of the worst roach infestations I’ve ever seen started with the brown bag scenario and exterminators around the world all have similar stories. If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll hear a few.

The Perfect Sanctuary

Since it’s long been believed most german roaches infestations came from people bringing them home in their groceries- it’s axiomatic that these two elements,( paper bags & roaches ), were often found together. The spot of choice to store these bags was almost always between the refrigerator & the wall or the fridge and a cabinet. The bags folded up and usually fit in this few inch gap quite nicely. Even when many bags were put together they just compacted tighter and slid into this out of the way nook with no trouble. The tighter the bags the more german roaches liked it. Roaches, a relative of termites can feed on cellulose so the paper bag was ideal not to mention the glue in the flaps. Add the warmth of the refrigerator motor and you’ve got a roaches paradise ready made.

Infestations On Steroids

So many people have german roach infestations for weeks if not months before they ever know there is a problem. The brown bag effect always seemed to super charge the numbers and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled out a wad of them only to have hundreds and on occasions I’d be willing to bet- more than 1000 freaked out roaches scattering in every direction. You could always find dozens of empty ootheca’s and oodles of babies that found perfect protection in the flaps and folds. The fecal matter would get so thick the bag would resemble sand paper in appearance and texture. As an exterminator you’re told to always find the source and you can solve the problem. The mass explosion that came with this discovery would make even the most seasoned pest pro feel like he or she hit the mother load for the whole block.

What Have You Seen?

What amazed me most about the brown bag effect and roaches was that the homeowner hardly ever caught on to the massive population that was living under their nose. It wasn’t until I pulled the bag out dripping with live cockroaches and the housewife would shriek in panic or the husband jump back in horror reaching for a broom. At that point it was a hardly a finesse service and aerosol and stomping your feet became the technique of the day. Pulling out the fridge was the next order of business and even though when finished and dead bodies laid strewn about. The wise pest control pro cautioned against high hope and quick results. They knew there was still a battle to be waged and although this was a great start, it was still only the first step.

I kinda miss the good old days when you could zero in a on a zillion unsuspecting roaches like that. If years ago you’d have asked me how I thought the brown bag effect would eventually be solved I might have said “IPM, a new bait or chemical perhaps” but never in a million years would I have guessed it would have been a simple phrase to solve it all. Paper or plastic?

Whose got a great brown bag story of their own? What’s the worst you’ve seen? We’d love to hear about it!

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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  • Stuto1

    New marketing plan. Stand outside Trader Joe’s handing out business cards!

  • Just had a customer today that had paper ‘lunch’ size baggies in a drawer for eons. Brought a german roach home or two & BAM! That little pile of bags was the hot spot of the kitchen.

  • Mel

    My experiance with roaches has always been with commercial accounts and we’d hear from the technical specialists the coregated boxes were the source of the transferring of roaches from warehouse to restaurants. Occasionally we’d get an apartment or two a year with german roaches but with residential it has been very rare in my area.  The residential roach jobs I’d be called on were usually western conifer seed bugs(box elderish bugs) and not roaches.  This year I’m treating german roaches in residential weekly.  Studos mentioned Trader Joe’s?  Do they carry paper bags or are they a natural store possibly not performing preventative pest control? All I know is I’m seeing more variety of pests in homes these days and Im guessing it’s because of the antipesticide and green movement.

  • Stuto1

    The are old school paper bags only. The anti-pesticide and green movement is my theory as to why bedbugs reemerged.

  • Salimbasha


  • Thank you

  • Jeff

    True, the plastic bags aren’t digestible, but in your standard kitchen cabinet with four drawers, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled out the drawers to find a forest of plastic bags stuffed behind them, and on roach cleanouts, they’re crawling with Germans. Good hiding spots, lots of surface area. People start filling a drawer with the bags, it gets full and they keep shoving more bags in, eventually they spill out to the back where they’re forgotten about for years.

    I love brutal cleanouts like that, where I leave a massacre of bodies in my wake. The customer definitely knows that I actually did something lol.

  • Haha, it sounds like you enjoy your work– Good observations on the filled true and it’s amazing how they get forgotten…..I just hope roaches don’t morph into plastic digesting insects… 😉