About Plastic Grocery Bags
Recycling and Environmental issues

21 Feb 2012, 10:36 Bennite

Plastic grocery bags became a modern cultural convenience in the later half of the 20th century, with grocery baggers from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon posing the popular question, "paper or plastic?" This article examines facts regarding this common and sometimes controversial modern convenience, the history of the plastic grocery bag, benefits of plastic over paper and risk factors commonly associated with plastic grocery bags.

History of
Plastic grocery bags have become a modern shopping convenience, rivaling the paper sack and cloth grocery bags in both everyday functionality and convenience. The first commercial system for manufacturing plastic grocery bags became operational in 1973, but it wasn't until later in the same decade that supermarkets began offering plastic grocery bags to their customers as a stronger, lighter and less bulky alternative to the paper sack.Plastic wasn't new to the grocery store scene, however. It was in the late 1950s that the first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in stores. In 1966, plastic produce bags on a roll became popular, along with plastic bread bags. In the mid-seventies, major U.S. shopping retailers such as Sears and Montgomery Ward switched to the plastic merchandise bag, and the grocery store chains were soon to follow.Over the next decade, the popularity of plastic grocery bags grew. By the mid-nineties, four out of five grocery bags used by U.S. consumers were plastic. But as worldwide environmental concerns mounted, plastic grocery bags began to get a bad rap, and use was banned or restricted in many countries. However, new technologies and methods for re-use and recycling, along with increased public education regarding this modern convenience and related recycling programs, are ensuring the use of plastic grocery bags for decades to come.
Time Frame
Plastic grocery bags began their run as an alternative to paper sacks in the late 1970s. It was earlier in 1973, however, that the first commercial system for making the plastic grocery bags became operational.According to the Society of the Plastics Industry, national retail stores such as JCPenney and Sears propelled plastic bag usage when they began putting customer merchandise in plastic bags in 1975. In 1977, supermarket giants followed suit, introducing the plastic grocery bag to their customers.It wasn't until five years later in 1982, that the plastic grocery sacks with handles on each side were introduced. These were commonly referred to as "t-shirt bags." Seven years later, in 1990, in-store plastic bag collection and recycling programs began, with more than half of U.S. markets operating collection programs by 1992.In 1996, statistics showed that four out of five grocery bags used by U.S. consumers were plastic and this statistic remains fairly consistent today, with exceptions in other countries around the globe where plastic grocery bag usage has been banned or restricted.
The benefits of plastic bags include their lightweight and compact size, yet measurable strength. In addition, plastic bags are recyclable and have many common uses besides their original role of carrying groceries. Many people re-use plastic grocery bags to collect pet waste, as liners for small wastebaskets and for craft projects. Recycled plastic grocery bags are also being used to create modern decking materials, composite lumber and other new building and home products.
Risk Factors
Plastic grocery bags have been associated with several environmental risk factors, the most common being discarded plastic bags becoming litter. Discarded plastic bags, particularly on beaches and in the water have also been known to cause risks and possible death for sea birds, marine mammals and fish who mistake the plastic grocery bag for food.The manufacturing of plastic bags has also been linked to air pollution, as well as additional health dangers to humans and other living beings, as the chemical components in improperly discarded plastic bags have the potential to leach into the soil or water sources.
There are many commonly held misconceptions regarding the manufacturing of plastic grocery bags. Many individuals believe that a plastic bag takes much more energy to produce and causes much more pollution in its production than the paper grocery sack. According to the Food Marketing Institute's Plastic Bag Backgrounder , "a paper bag requires four times more energy to produce than a plastic bag (2,511 BTUs vs. 594 BTUs) and the manufacturing process of paper bags generates "70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags."Another misconception is that plastic is much more difficult to recycle than paper. The Food Marketing Institute and the American Chemistry Council report that "nearly twice as much energy is required to recycle a pound of paper than a pound of plastic." Additional data on misconceptions relating to plastic grocery bags is available on the American Chemistry Council's Info Sheet on this subject .

16 Mar 2013, 7:20 ShallyMarker

Plastic Bags Pollution is the more harmful pollution than any other form of environmental pollution, as we all know that plastic bags are non- degradable, if we stop the use of plastic today than also it will remain 100 of years. By adopting the recycling lifestyle we can reduce the manufacture of plastic and save the environment from the air and water pollution.


16 Oct 2015, 8:21 Victor56

There are ways to reduce plastic usage and encouraging others to do so too. I have mentioned a few in the other thread. When you talk about Supermarkets in particular I think they themselves should stop offering plastic bags. The reason plastic is so popular is because of it's properties and the fact that it is extremely cheap.

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