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Plastic bags have been an environmental hazard. The plastic bag is one invention whose anniversary will never be celebrated in the modern world (Hawkings 10). It is a plague that must be eradicated. Plastic's convenience is a significant factor that has led to its growing success in the world today. But is the ease worth it when weighed against the environmental threats the bags face in the future (Hawkings 10)? Before considering measures to reverse and eradicate the plastic bag plague, it is essential to first understand the origin of the plastic bag. The plastic bag came into existence from the discovery of polyethene (The Independent Magazine n.p). This residue was all by accident, and he had no idea about the significance of the substance. He had discovered polyethene, one of the world's most controversial and widely used material.
The waxy residue "was virtually identical to the modern-day chemical, and his colleagues named it polymethylene" (Independent n.p). The waxy residue was however not useful in practical terms "like polythene which is flexible enough to make hardy and filmic plastics" (Independent n.p). Therefore, the experiment duly died. However, "the people who can officially be credited for the invention of polythene chanced upon it 34 years later" (The Independent Magazine n.p).
The modern form of polythene was invented in the year 1933. It was invented by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson who worked for the ICI Company (Hanmere Polythene Ltd n.p). The company used this experiment and started the mass production of polythene in 1935 (Hanmere Polythene Ltd n.p). This product continued to increase in popularity with its first application being the use in making telephone lines.
A curious experiment that led to the polythene discovery (Hanmere Polythene Ltd n.p)
However, it is not until the 1950s when the plastic bag was invented that the rise of popularity and use of polyethene was experienced (The Independent Magazine n.p). This was made possible by the existence of the high-density polythene. The polythene bag was invented by a German designer by the name Gustaf Thulin a Swedish engineer (The Independent Magazine n.p). This design was effective in creating a bag that was simple and yet tough and provided a good carrying capacity. This design was then mass produced and introduced to the world by Celloplast Company.
Celloplast was renowned for the manufacturer of safety film and was a pioneer in the processing of plastics (The Independent Magazine n.p). The company, therefore, had a strong position and thus easily acquired a monopoly in the production of plastics bags. The company set up other plants for the manufacture of plastics in the United States and Europe.
However, companies started realizing the benefits of the plastic bag business as it became more popular. Celloplast then lost its monopoly and the leading petrochemical company in the United States, Mobil, took over the production of the plastic bag in 1977 (The Independent Magazine n.p). The popularity continued to grow, and the perfection, manufacture, and marketing "of plastic bags reached massive heights. Other companies such as Capital Poly, Dixie Bag, and Houston Poly Bag played a great role in making the bags popular. Stores and supermarkets started replacing their paper bags with the plastic shopping bags" (The Independent Magazine n.p).
Since the 1980's the use of plastic bags has become popular and is used in numerous applications globally (Clap and Linda 315). They have become a part of the human life especially in the handling and carrying of items from one place to the other. The bags have become extremely popular despite the hazards they pose to the environment.
The first time that the bags became a menace was after the death of 80 toddlers in the state of California due to suffocation by the bags (Clap and Linda 316). There was a proposition to ban the use of the bags at that time, but manufacturers of the bags claimed that the carelessness of the parents was the reason for the deaths (Clap and Linda 318). The bags were therefore not banned, and the manufacturers were only asked to ensure they include a warning message. Consumers complained about their preferences for the paper bags over the plastic bags, but the plastic bag was more convenient for the businesses. This is because they are much cheaper, waterproof and stronger. Today, plastic bags have secured more than 80% of the grocery and convenience store markets (Hanmere Polythene Ltd n.p).
However, as the plastic bags provided a convenient throwaway lifestyle after a single use, pollution became noticeable (Clap and Linda 320). The manufacturers, however, managed to shift the blame from themselves to the consumers. This shifted the responsibility of environmental pollution caused by the polythene bags to the consumers. As the use of plastic bags became more and more popular, contamination of the environment increased due to the non-biodegradable nature of the bags.
In summary, the plastic bag was an accidental discovery made by Pechmann and later by Gibson and Fawcett who discovered plastics. However, the paper bag came into existence after Thulin made a design for Celloplast Company. Since then, many companies engaged in the mass production of polythene bags as they won the hearts of many businesses and grew in popularity. Despite the many efforts made in the past to ban their production, manufacturers have managed to ensure they remain in business and thus block any efforts to ban their use. However, with the threat to the environment being experienced, there is a need for significant steps to be taken to ensure the use and production of this menace are stopped immediately.
Clapp, Jennifer, and Linda Swanston. "Doing away with plastic shopping bags: international patterns of norm emergence and policy implementation." Environmental politics 18.3 (2009): 315-332.
Hanmere Polythene Ltd. “How One Curious Accident Led to The Discovery Of Polythene.” Hanmere. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.hanmere.co.uk/2017/01/24/how-one-curious-accident-led-to-the-discovery-of-polythene/
Hawkins, Gay. "Plastic bags: living with rubbish." International Journal of Cultural Studies 4.1 (2001): 5-23.
The Independent Magazine. “Polythene’s Story: The accidental Birth of Plastic Bags.” (2008). Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/polythenes-story-the-accidental-birth-of-plastic-bags-800602.html
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