I’m Not (Always) The Bad Guy : The Funny Genesis of Plastic Bag


Some countries limit its use, some others even ban it for good--days are getting darker for our nearly-unbreakable-by-nature fellas. But do you know that one of the reason why this particular entity exist is because people are trying to make a more ‘eco-friendly’ alternative for paper bag? Wait, WHAT--MORE ECO-FRIENDLY alternative?? Yea man go ahead and think “You can’t be serious!” but that’s the freakin’ truth. Read on to know more about this surreal fact of plastic bags.

(Via : graytvinc.com)

Once upon a time, plastic bags was deemed as the savior of Mother Earth. Back in 1953, high-density polyethylene was invented. In the recycling system, it is identified as ‘No.2’, and this kind of plastic then became the main material of grocery store plastic bag (that we use until now). Sten Gustaf Thulin, a part of Celloplast--a Swedish company that sell stuffs like cellulose films--then developed an idea of ‘a plastic tube’; a bottom-sealed tube that is open on the other end and has handles on it. The company then obtained a US patent for this idea(which later called as ‘the T-shirt plastic bag’) in 1965, and this design is essentially the very plastic bag that we see today everywhere.

This bag’s popularity then skyrocketed, especially among retailers, since plastic bags are far cheaper than paper bag. Its strong, durable, and convenient-to-carry quality makes this bag also loved by the customers. Ironically, at these times environmentalists are among those who celebrate the invention of plastic bag, since the creation of this bag doesn’t involve any trees to be cut down. In fact, thin plastic bags are actually cleaner to produce--in terms of greenhouse gas emissions--than paper bags and bags from cloth, so it makes this stuff applauded by more and more people. People suddenly forget that paper bags are much more recyclable and has a low litter risk.

It did not take much time for plastic bags to overshadow paper bags existence in supermarkets. It became the answer of a problem that didn’t really exist--how to carry our stuff around? Well, people are already used to bring along their stuff in their bags since forever, that kind of bags which are obviously can be used over and over again. But plastic bags are undeniably so versatile, you can use it both for ‘clean job’(shopping, etc.) and ‘dirty job’(lining your trash bin, get rid of your pet’s waste, etc.) and then you can just throw it away if you’ve done with your business. People just love them.

(Via : brainskewer.com)

But the heyday didn’t last long. In 1980s, just as supermarkets around the world were replacing paper bags with the plastic ones, in 1988 Bangladesh experienced a great flood--a disaster that was caused by plastic bags clogging down the country’s drainage system. Surveys said that the world produced a dreadfully huge number of plastic bags waste every year. In 2009, the executive director of UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, then declared that plastic bags “should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere” because “there is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”. The discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (huge, floating marine debris spreading on some parts of Pacific Ocean) makes the presence of plastic bags become creepy--it started to look like an ongoing threat to all living things.

(Via : brainskewer.com)

Great Pacific Garbage Patch itself is not an ‘island’ built from plastic waste. It even barely visible to see from a ship or boat. While now there are such thing as biodegradable plastics, most plastics are a photodegrading entity, so it means that plastics will only breaks down under sunlight’s UV rays. Those broken-down plastics then became tiny plastic flakes just below the surface of the water, emitting toxics, while also looking like a delicious lunch to fish and other marine animals and sea birds. And, worst of all, those flakes will stay in shape for at least hundreds of years, if it’s not being eaten by the animals yet.

(Via : whatkatewore.com)

Once a modern miracle, now plastic bags are seen more like a black sheep of the family. Even in some countries like China and Ireland if you are seen carrying plastic bags around people will see you as socially unacceptable, as if you’re wearing a real fur coat or eating shark fin soup everyday. There was even a much-hyped bag created by Anya Hindmarch, that is I Am Not A Plastic Bag bag, in late 2000’s. If plastic bags have feelings they might have take some pills by now.

(Via : nydailynews.com)

This situation somehow feels unfair for plastic bags--how come they become the only one in the whole ‘Plastics Family’ to be banned everywhere in the world? What about plastic bottle? Plastic packaging? Or maybe plastic toolbox? They’re also plastics! It might be because the other kinds of plastics’ functions can’t easily be replaced by other materials, at least for now. But plastic bags’ function is waaay easier to replace. There are many safer, more eco-friendly option to carry your stuff than carrying it in plastic bags. So eventhough every plastics hold the same degree of danger for our nature, people who still bring plastic bags to carry their groceries will be considered as reluctant or even reckless to their environment, since the safer alternative are already exists within reach.

The reduction of plastic bags usage also means a lot to the natural resources sector. Like in China, where after 3 years of plastic ban the government report that their plastic bags usage have dropped 2/3 from the previous number, which means they succeed to reduce 60.000 tons of plastic bag waste. This number approximately equals to 3,6 millions tons of petroleum, and also cut down more than 10 millions tons of CO2 emissions.

(Via : theatlantic.com)

Now we can say here that this is such a sad, yet funny satire comedy. How come this such thing could be ‘funny’? Well, plastic bags, are invented by Swedish. But Sweden itself had started with their recycling program since 1970s, barely 2 decades after the creation of the plastic bags, while the rest of the world were still overwhelmed by the plastic bags euphoria. Plastic bags are among those to be recycled. Now, their government are examining the plastic bag-ban policy. Next, after being heralded and celebrated as ‘the bags of the future’ now plastic bags are banned in many places and seen as ‘the evil forces’. Environmentalists, who initially support the ‘eco-friendly quality’ of plastic bags, now turn their back and consider plastics as world’s nemesis. However, plastic bags are hated but STILL needed at the same time.

(Via : svensktuppfinnaremuseum.se & neogaf.com)

But, no matter how wicked this stuff appear in public, plastic bags are also a muse for many. The most well-known example could be Alan Ball, the scriptwriter of Oscar-winning movie American Beauty who mention plastic bags as one of those who deserve his gratitude in his acceptance speech (“...and finally, that plastic bag in front of the World Trade Center so many years ago, for being whatever it is that inspires us to do what we do.”). That plastic bag that he encountered back then might possibly be the inspiration of one of American Beauty’s most iconic scene, where a plastic bag dancing in the wind accompanied by this statement : “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world.”. Who else being inspired by this little troublemaker? Well, you know who ;). And that’s why we do what we do, ‘cause we believe that there will always beauty behind a madness.


Written by Nadia Maya Ardiani

Older Post Newer Post