The history of plastic bags starts in the mid-1960s when the modern shopping bag as we know it today was introduced by a Swedish engineer. 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 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.
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 spite of environmental concerns, plastic bags are recyclable. Manufacturers sell their scrap plastic to be recycled into resin for reuse.
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. Seventeen 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.