A body bag is a non-porous bag designed to contain a human body, used for the storage and transport of corpses. Body bags can also be used for the storage of corpses within morgues. Before purpose-made body bags were available, cotton mattress covers were sometimes used, particularly in combat zones during the Second World War. However, the subsequent rubber (and now plastic) body-bag designs are much superior, not least because they prevent leakage of body fluids, which often occurs after someone dies. The dimensions of a body-bag are generally around 36 inches by 90 inches.
In modern warfare, body bags have been used to contain the bodies of dead soldiers. Governments typically have reserves of body bags, both for anticipated wars and natural disasters. During the Cold War, vast reserves of body bags were built up in anticipation of millions of fatalities from nuclear war. This was the subject of Adrian Mitchell's haunting protest poem "Fifteen Million Plastic Bags".
Body bags are sometimes portrayed in films and television as being made of a heavy black plastic. Lightweight white body bags have since become popular because it is much easier to spot a piece of evidence that may have been jostled from the body in transit on a white background than on a black background. Even so black body-bags are still in general use, as the adjacent photo taken in 2008 shows. Other typical colours include orange, blue, or grey. Regardless of their colour, body bags are made of thick plastic and have a full-length zipper on them. Sometimes the zipper runs straight down the middle. Alternatively, the path of the zipper may be J-shaped or D-shaped. Depending on the design, there are sometimes handles (two on each side) to facilitate lifting. It is possible to write information on the plastic surface of a bodybag using a marker pen, and this often happens - either in situ (particularly when a large number of bodies are being collected) or at the mortuary, before being stored in refrigerated cabinets. Alternatively, some designs of body bag have transparent label pockets as an integral part of the design, into which a name-card can be inserted. In any case, a conventional toe tag can easily be tied to one of the lifting handles if required. Body bags are not designed to be washed and re-used, with good reason: aside from the obvious hygiene concerns, re-use of body bags could easily contaminate evidence in the case of a suspicious death. As a result, body bags are routinely discarded and incinerated after one use.
Although body bags are most often used for the transport of human remains from their place of discovery to a funeral home or mortuary, they can also be used for temporary burials such as in a combat zone. In such situations, proper funerals are impossible due to imminent enemy attack. This was the situation during the Falklands War of 1982, during which British casualties were placed in grey plastic bodybags and then laid in mass graves. Some months after the conflict ended, all remains were exhumed from their temporary graves to receive a conventional funeral service with full military honours.
The term body bag is sometimes used for fashion or other bags worn on the body (sling body bag or across body bag) and this sense has no connection with either of the two above senses.
- Even body bags need to be hawked — Wisconsin State Journal