Once a rare novelty (during the seventies), the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag is now blamed for creating massive environmental hazard for all. It not only affects human health for its high degree of toxicity but is also responsible for the death of numerous aquatic animals that include whales. No wonder people all over our lonely and much polluted planet are now desperate to remove it from the face of the earth once for all. While a large majority of people is involved in the removal of plastic shopping bags a few that include EarthyyBags
busies themselves in creating alternatives in the form biodegradable jute/cotton/canvas bags that are safe and environment friendly. However, let us take a quick look at the chronology of the plastic bag from cradle to crucifixion as EarthyyBags
have recorded and enumerated below.
The Beginning of the Plastic Era
Year 1933 -
Polyethylene, the most common form of plastic, was discovered by accident
in 1898 and was re-discovered several times after that, while chemists and researchers originally found very little use for the white, waxy substance.
However, it wasn’t until March 27, 1933, when the first industrially realistic polyethylene synthesis was conducted by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson, again by accident
, at ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) in Northwich, England. Nevertheless, this is how it all happened: In course of high-pressure experiments on ethylene, a test vessel had leaked and a trace of oxygen was present in the chemists’ fresh ethylene sample, which acted as an initiator. Miraculously, polyethylene formed overnight, while ICI, anticipating the product’s potential utility value, applied for patent rights and soon went into production, the primary product being polyethylene bag.
Year 1965 –
A Swedish company called Celloplast
that primarily traded in cellulose film first filed for US patent for ‘Tubing for Packaging purposes’ in 1960 that was designed by a team of Celloplast employees. They argued that a tube of plastic, laid flat and kept open at the top could be used as packaging alternative in many cases.
It was a good idea, but one of the team members, Gustaf Thulin Sten, seemed to have a better one. “Seal the bottom of the tube,” he agreed but at the same time punch out part of plastic tube to create handles. Finally in 1965 Celloplast obtained a U.S. patent
for the idea that was later called "the T-shirt plastic bag," and it's the design, essentially, of every plastic bag we had been presented with, free of any charge.
Year 1979 –
After controlling 80% of the carry bag market in Europe, the T-shirt plastic bag sailed for the United States where it received instant approval. Safeway and Kroger, two of the biggest supermarket chains in the United States, switch to plastic bags. More stores follow suit and by the end of the decade plastic bags will have almost replaced paper around the world
Year 1980-1990 -
From the mid-1980s onwards, plastic bags became widely used for carrying daily groceries from the store to the waiting automobiles and homes throughout the developed world. As plastic bags increasingly replaced paper bags, and as other plastic materials and products replaced glass, metal, stone, timber and other materials, a packaging materials war erupted, with plastic shopping bags ruling the roost.
– Safeway and Kroger, two of the biggest supermarket chains in the United States, switch to plastic bags. More stores follow suit and by the end of the decade plastic bags will have almost replaced paper around the world.
The Beginning of the End
“The world has a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action,” said a UN spokesperson from the Global Environmental Mission. As a first step towards eliminating single use plastic bag, the following countries and nations imposed ban on use of single-use plastic bag.
is the first country
in the world to implement a ban on thin plastic bags (in 2002), after it was found they played a key role in clogging drainage systems during disastrous flooding. Other countries begin to follow suit.
In August 2017, the usage of plastic bags was completely banned in Kenya. If anyone is found selling, producing or even carrying any kind of plastic bag they could face up to 4 years imprisonment or a hefty fine of up $40,000 (around R585,000).
As one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, yet having the strongest administration, Rwanda claims to be called the world’s first plastic free nation
, 10 years after introducing a ban on all plastic bags and plastic packaging, in 2008. If you are caught with a plastic, you will get a jail sentence for up to six months and on entering a border post, your vehicle will be searched and any plastic bags or packaging confiscated before you enter the country.
Silver Lining Bordering The Dark Clouds
Thereafter, most world countries had imposed ban on single-use plastic bag that raised vehement opposition against plastic pollution when in 1997, sailor and researcher Charles Moore
discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest of several gyres in the world’s oceans where immense amounts of plastic waste have accumulated, threatening marine life. Plastic bags, he observed, were notorious for killing sea turtles, which mistakenly think they are jellyfish and eat them.
Following his groundbreaking revelations, numerous organizations, both national and sponsored had taken up the job of cleaning our oceans and delivering us pollution-free seas just as it happened to our forefathers’ days.