A World Of Plastic-The Plastic Bag

It is definitely not a good time to be a plastic shopping bag. It seems everyone is out to get you. Well, you have done some pretty bad stuff. You have killed millions of marine animals in your lifetime. You have littered the landscapes of our communities and proclaimed yourself the standard ornament in our trees. You also pretend you are a free commodity but really you add millions more to our grocery bills every year. And another thing, the production of you accounts for some 20,000 metric tons of plastic polymer derived from non-renewable resources. While you can be recycled, only a very small proportion of you are collected and reprocessed. You are everywhere and we need to take a look at how you ever came into existence.

It looks like the first one use plastic bags started in the late fifties by the dry cleaning industry. People really liked these light weight disposable bags until they seemed to be killing their children and pets. These light plastic bags easily suffocated small children and animals if not monitored closely by adults. But lucky for the whole world, a ban of these bags was not successful. Just a warning was put on these silent killers: CAUTION: Keep away from small children, the thin film may cling to nose and mouth.

In the sixties the plastic bag industry continued to shift the responsibility to the consumer and claims this product gives us the convenience of a throw-away lifestyle. Litter becomes a huge problem so campaigns such as “Keep America Beautiful”, “Litter Bugs” and “Give A Hoot” are put into action. These campaigns had fun characters like “Woodsy Owl” and “Susan Spotless” to make them more interesting. Obviously they were hugely effective.

In 1977 the war at the grocery store begins. “Paper or Plastic for you today?” The plastic bag had already taken over the produce section because it’s always better to have one bag inside another. Anyhow, this was a tough question. The clear cutting of trees is at an all time high so paper bags have to be bad. Plastic bags are a much better solution say the folks at Mobil Chemicals.

In the early eighties the plastic industry starts to get stronger forming the Grocery Sack Council among others. This Council is to promote the benefits of plastic over paper. They do excellent work and the growth of these amazing bags soar from 4% in 1981 to 50% in 1988. By 1988 these bags are starting to make a bad impression in Suffolk County New York and they want them out of here! But again the lucky world is saved by the plastic industry. The Plastic Bag Association, Society of Plastics Industry and Flexible Packaging Association fight Suffolk County in court over a proposed ban of plastic bags. They are victorious in 1990.

These battles continue into the 90’s. Maine bans plastic bags just to have it over turned again with the help of the Partnership for Plastics Progress. However this group responds to public concern by starting a $50 million annual campaign of public information, education and recycling programs at supermarkets. Now that these bags can be recycled they become 80% of the work force in grocery and retail shopping.

The true cost of these ‘free’ and ‘recyclable’ bags really makes its mark in 1997. Algalita Marine Research Foundation makes a discovery in the ocean. The first signs of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” are being documented. George A. Makrauer, President of the Plastic Bag Association has a reaction to this, “The public’s disdain for things ‘plastic’ — especially bags — is due to shameful and short-term industry ‘leadership’ without care or concern for any long-term and science-based support.” The plastic bag industry continues on it’s polluting way.

The new century brings us hope for the future of our planet. Taxes, bans, road blocks and law suits have gone wild. San Francisco leads a pack of cities throughout the nation to ban these bags. In 2008 the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition is founded to help fight this battle. Private citizens come up with ideas for reusable bags and companies like ChicoBags and bChill (shameless plug) make a move to quench the desire for the plastic bag. ChicoBags actually gets sued by the plastic industry for it’s revolutionary idea of a reusable bag you can fit in your pocket. The suit has been settled and ChicoBags helps defend small business and free enterprise.

Today we are so happy to announce that Los Angeles, the biggest city to date, joins an ever growing list of cities and states that are done with the spin. Toronto joined just this past week. Your city could be tomorrow. It’s hard to think that it has taken over 50 years to get these bags banned. They started their deadly road from the very beginning. Soon we will just be cleaning up their past.


(Disclaimer: This ‘report’ I put together is simplified for enjoyment and is not meant for any fact finding missions. If you are interested in getting into it deeper, please do!)


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