The History of Plastic Bags

The history of plastic bags starts in a chemical plant in Norwich, England in 1933, where polyethylene, a commonly used compound in plastic bags, was created by accident. While it had been created prior, this creation was industrially practical. Understanding the potential of polyethylene, the British military used it in secrecy throughout World War II. Plastic was a crucial component for the ally forces who were attempting to manufacture equipment. Plastic was not only simple to make, as its components were abundant, plastic also solved the issue of utilizing limited natural resources for manufacturing weapons and technology.

In 1965, the Swedish company Celloplast patented the one-piece polyethylene shopping bag. The plastic bag was designed by Swedish engineer, Sten Gustaf Thulin, who created the plastic bag intending to save the trees. He had personally marked the devastation throughout forests, and consequently, he began using plastic bags instead, with one in his pocket for reuse. The plastic bag quickly began to replace cloth and plastic in Europe. Prior to that time, thicker bags that were not cost-effective were made although not popularized. The thinner shopping plastic bags soon became a durable alternative to paper bags. Although patented in Sweden during its early years, it soon become popular worldwide due to its lower cost of production and distribution.

The History of Plastic Bags and their Usage

The lightweight bag quickly became popular with wholesalers due to cost and with customers due to its many uses and easy carrying. Once popularized in Sweden, the patent was soon overturned in the US in 1977 and plastic bags become common use around the globe. Plastic companies began to advertise their single-use shopping bags as superior to paper bags and reusable bags.

Soon major grocery and department stores began to switch to plastic bag use and by the mid-1980s, plastic bags became most popularly used. In 1982, Safeway and Kroger, two of the largest supermarket franchises in the United States, made the switch to plastic bags. Though plastic bags had yet to be accepted by shoppers, the single-use plastic bags proved to be cheaper than other alternatives. More stores began to follow Safeway and Kroger and make the switch to plastic bags. At the completion of the decade, plastic bags had almost completely replaced paper bags globally as the ideal option for carrying out merchandise.

Despite environmental concerns, plastic bags are recyclable. Manufacturers sell their scrap plastic to be recycled into resin for reuse. Look for a number at the back or bottom of the bag for a 1 or 2 – this means the bag can be recycled at certain facilities, which alleviates many problems.

There are 2 types of plastic which can be recycled:

1.     Polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE), which are the compound of plastic bottles and food and drink packaging.

2.     High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), which is denser than PET and used to create milk, juice, and shampoo containers and bottles.

Alternatively, there are 3 types of plastic which cannot be or are too difficult to be recycled:

1.     Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is present in toys, medical tubes, and cling wrap. It is known to be a hazardous compound and is not accepted at recycling plants. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid this type of plastic altogether.

2.     Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) is the most commonly used type of plastic and is found in frozen food bags, beverage cup coating, and squeeze bottles. It is challenging to recycle these products.

3.     Polypropylene (PP) is able to withstand heat and is found in hot food containers or car parts, which are non-recyclable.

4.     Polystyrene (PS) is the Styrofoam we have in our food containers, cups, egg cartons, and helmets, and are not generally recycled.

Plastic bags are also reusable. Customers are finding ways to reuse them. They are now used worldwide for a variety of uses. Wholesalers sell them because they are inexpensive and are still preferred by customers who enjoy using them as paper bags tend to break more easily.

A more recent invention is the biodegradable plastic bags on the market that are good for the environment. These plastic bags will break down and will not add to the landfill overflow.

The most exciting aspect in the history of plastic bags and the plastic industry is a recent scientific experiment. 17-year-old Daniel Burd, a student in Waterloo, Ontario won the Canada Wide Science Fair's highest honor as well as a $10,000 prize for his experiment. He used bacteria to quicken the decomposition of a plastic bag in a soil solution, recreating a similar situation to what we would find in a landfill.

Burd concluded bacteria would break down the polyethylene material which is used to make plastic bags. He combined soil from a landfill, polyethylene pieces and a solution which encourages bacteria to develop in a laboratory. Two types of bacteria, Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas, broke down the plastic more effectively. Increasing the temperature, he was able to break down almost half of the plastic.

This was received well, is an advancement towards further research to protect the environment and changes the course of the history of plastic bags. It is a step forward toward combining the efficiency of plastic bags with an environmentally clean world.

Please contact us for quotes

Plastic Bag FAQ

Are Plastic Bags Recyclable?

Facts about Recycling Plastic Bags

Good Things About Plastic Bags

Plastic Bag Ban Facts

2899 Steeles Ave. W.,
Units 9 & 10,
North York, Ontario
M3J 3A1


Fax: 1-855-669-6184

For skid quantities of stretch wrap, resin, or plastic bags only, please call

By appointment.

You might like these

  • Plastic Shopping Bags Wholesale

    Plastic shopping bags wholesale are used everywhere. Look throughout the mall and see shoppers moving from store to store carrying these bags in their arms

  • Plastic Bags Banned

    Plastic bags banned. Is the Toronto plastic bag ban much ado about nothing? Where can we find a product that is more cost effective and recyclable? And do we really want to destroy all those trees?

  • Are Plastic Bags Recyclable?

    Are plastic bags recyclable?