The plastic bag has undoubtedly become the symbol of the plastic pollution problem that is affecting oceans and habitats worldwide. Produced at a rate of one trillion a year, plastic bags have been found by divers in the deepest explored parts of the ocean and by mountaineers on the summit of Mount Everest.
The hope behind its invention
Plastic bags were invented in 1959 by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin who had the most honorable intentions for this revolutionizing product: Saving the planet.
That’s right, what has now become a symbol of pollution and of wastefulness was created to save the world and its trees. As an alternative to paper bags in fact, this invention was meant to help the environment by reducing the number of forests being chopped down to produce brown bags. Thulin thought he had created a win-win situation: plastic bags required less energy to produce than paper bags, and being an incredibly stronger alternative, they could be used over and over again.
Conquering the market
By the mid-1960s plastic bags were replacing paper and cloth bags all over Europe, and by 1979, twenty years after they were first invented, they accounted for 80% of the continent’s bag market. It didn’t take long before supermarket chains in the US got a hold of this lighter and more durable product, and also began making the switch from paper bags to plastic bags. By the end of the 1980s Mr.Thulin’s invention had become a wide-spread phenomenon, and had managed to replace almost all paper bags worldwide.
Were Plastic Bags made to be Single-Use items?
In a recent interview to a BBC Environment Reporter, Mr.Thulin’s son stated that his father “would be shocked and upset” to see what his invention has become, adding that his father always carried around a folded plastic bag in his pocket, expecting everyone else to do the same. The inventor of the plastic bag is essentially the first person to have put in place the BYO (Bring Your Own) concept of reusing the same bag every time you shop… sound familiar? Yep, that is exactly what people are being encouraged to do nowadays with reusable bags in order to avoid using plastic!
So how did this happen? Why did something that was supposed to help the planet end up causing so many problems to the environment to the point where governments all over the world are now banning or taxing this product?
The reality is, people got lazy! Plastic bags turned out to be extremely convenient, too convenient. They were light, they were stronger and the thought of using the same one over and over again didn’t seem to cross most people’s minds, so they started throwing them away and getting a new one every time. We have gotten to the point were studies show that nowadays, an average plastic bag has a life span of approximately 12 minutes.
The long life of a Plastic Bag
What its inventor considered the primary benefit of plastic bags, their strength and ability to possibly last forever, is now the exact reason they are becoming such a problem. The majority of plastic bags in fact are not recycled (plastic bags require special sorting and processing machines which not every recycling plant has) and therefore end up in landfill or polluting the environment where they will take up to 1,000 years to degrade. This happens because ordinary plastic bags are made from petroleum, which few microbes can digest, preventing it from decomposing naturally. Over the years plastic bags will eventually break down into tiny pieces, and get consumed by a variety of organisms, ultimately making their way up the food chain.
In a bid to control environmental pollution numerous countries around the world have now embraced a total ban on plastic bags. Bangladesh was the first in 2002, and since then more and more countries around the world have put full bans in place, with other countries opting for higher taxes on plastic bags instead.
Are Biodegradable Plastic Bags the solution?
Ever since the awareness on the pollution problem caused by plastic bags became a main stream issue, people have started switching to Biodegradable Plastic bags.
It’s become widespread belief that this type of bag is a more suitable and more eco-friendly alternative to ordinary plastic bags. This is unfortunately not the case. Yes, biodegradable bags are made from plant-based materials such as corn and wheat starch, however this doesn’t mean they disintegrate or decompose easily, in fact, there are certain conditions required: temperatures need to reach 50 degrees Celsius, and the bag also needs to be exposed to UV light. Neither of these conditions can verify themselves when bags are discarded in landfills or make their way to the ocean. Exactly like petroleum based plastic bags, if not processed correctly, biodegradable bags will still have an extremely long life span, in which to break down and contaminate their surroundings.
What can you do?
Choose to reuse! Choose a solid, eco-friendly cotton bag that can easily be folded up and kept in your purse or bag or pocket in order to have it ready every time you make a purchase!
The advantage of using cotton bags is their strength, their versatility and the fact that you can use them for a variety of items knowingly perfectly well that if they get dirty they can easily be washed and turn out as good as new.
If you are looking for the ultimate solution to your weekly grocery shopping, then look no further than our organic cotton muslin bags!
Available in three different sizes (so smaller items won’t get lost or buried under bigger ones), these bags also come with removable tags, meaning that not only can they be used for transporting items from A to B, but once home they can also be used as elegant storage options!
Find out in how many other ways these multipurpose bags can be used here!