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I have the world’s largest collection of empty potato chip bags — it started as a way to cope while my wife was dying of breast cancer

a man smiling and a pile of candy
a man smiling and a pile of candy

He’s cashing in his chips.

A retired man who built the world’s largest-ever collection of empty potato chip wrappers says he’s finally reached the proverbial bottom of the bag — after pulling in an astonishing 24,000.

Gary Key, of East Yorkshire, England, first embarked upon the thoroughly unusual pastime back in 2012 as a diversion after his partner Joanne was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

Joanne eventually passed, but Key was determined to honor her memory by continuing to build the curious collection.

Formerly employed by the University of Hull, Key, whose personal tastes run toward a nice, salty plain chip, estimated he collected nearly 300 empty bags per month, often picking them up from the side of the road.

Now, for a variety of reasons, Key has decided to step away from what had become his passion — a decision he’s not altogether happy about.

Key showing off part of his ample collection. Gary Key / SWNS.COM
Key showing off part of his ample collection. Gary Key / SWNS.COM

“I think not collecting them is really going to get to me,” he told SWNS.

“I might have to go back to it as it’s just a habit now.”

Key told the news service that when he was furiously working to build his collection, he depended on all kinds of sources. People sometimes knew to save their empty bags, so that Key could add them to his collection. That, or he would go scavenging himself.

A fresh batch of empties awaits the fire. Gary Key / SWNS.COM
A fresh batch of empties awaits the fire. Gary Key / SWNS.COM

“I sometimes will pick up a decent packet if it’s on the floor,” he recalled. “I once picked something up and a litter warden actually asked me if I had dropped it. I had to tell him that I was collecting them — I could have got a fine for it.

His partner in crime, at least until now, has been his daughter Alisha, 15, who is readying to leave home.

“Alisha takes a packet of crisp to school and then brings it home – but she might come home with another few packets that her friends have given her,” Key said.

“So the message has got across.”

Once heated up, the wrappers can be shaped into colorful little balls. Gary Key / SWNS.COM
Once heated up, the wrappers can be shaped into colorful little balls. Gary Key / SWNS.COM

More than just stacks of empty bags lying around, Key’s collection is visually quite appealing — he heats up each bag, rolls it into a small, colorful ball and then puts it into a storage container with hundreds of others.

Key said he’s planning to keep the collection, and has the idea to build a water feature of some kind where all the balled up wrappers can float — perhaps something that could help raise money for a local charity.

“People always think that they will sink but they actually float. They are colorful so it would work,” he said.

Daughter Alisha has been dad’s partner in crime — she’ll soon be leaving home however. Gary Key / SWNS.COM
Daughter Alisha has been dad’s partner in crime — she’ll soon be leaving home however. Gary Key / SWNS.COM

Part of the reason Key is hanging up further expansion of his collection is his age.

“I can’t lift the boxes — I would need to be the world’s strongest man,” he said.

Back when Key started out, his late wife told him he was nuts — but soon came to see it her husband’s way. Key thinks she’d be “astonished” if she could see how far he’s come.

Key hopes there might be some use for the colorful collection in future. Gary Key / SWNS.COM
Key hopes there might be some use for the colorful collection in future. Gary Key / SWNS.COM

“I wanted them to say ‘don’t worry, she’ll be back on her feet in six months’ but that wasn’t the case unfortunately,” he recalled.

“If she could come out of that grave, she would be saying ‘wow.'”