How Have Plastic Bags Negatively Affected the Environment?

Topics: Plastic shopping bag, Shopping bag, Reusable shopping bag Pages: 7 (2895 words) Published: May 3, 2012
Imagine one thousand years in the future. The majority of the human population has died out due to unsustainable methods of resource use. All this is in the ancient past, but still, one thing remains: plastic. As the waves roll upon the beach, they hold within their grasp plastic wrappers, containers, but most of all bags. They drift in the wind over America’s great prairies and are caught on rocks at the highest peaks. Animals are seen wrapped in plastic struggling to move and breathe while others lie motionless on the ground having given up the struggle to free themselves. Society’s descendents can no longer lie on the beach and enjoy the sun due to the thick layer of plastic covering the sand on the Earth’s beaches. Now think about this: is it worth it? The negative effects of the use of thin plastic bags outweigh the positive benefits.

As the Earth’s population grows and grows, more and more resources are consumed. Every minute, one million thin plastic bags are consumed worldwide by grocery stores, department stores, and street vendors. Americans alone consume approximately one hundred-two billion bags a year. This means that the average American consumes about five hundred bags each. Plastic grocery bags are recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Ubiquitous Consumer Item in the World”, and Susan Freinkel, author of Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, stated that “Plastic bags have come to represent the collective sins of the age of plastic” (Doucette 37). The use of plastic and plastic bags is much larger of a problem than what the general public is aware of.

Plastic bags were introduced to US supermarkets in 1977 as an alternative to paper. These new bags were cheaper to produce and much stronger than the paper bag which was the most widely used bag in the US prior to 1977. The even more convenient “t-shirt” style bag was introduced five years later, the style of bag that is still widely used today by the street vendor to the largest grocery store chain. This is what began the “paper or plastic?” question that was heard in supermarkets everywhere throughout the eighties and nineties. By 1996, four out of every five grocery bags were plastic (“Plastic”). Plastic grocery bags are made from high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which is created by the use of fossil fuels. They are very lightweight, cheap to manufacture, and carry over 1000 times their weight. This is one of the many reasons why these bags have been so popular for so long, and also, why they are so wasteful. One may put only two or three items in a bag, and give them away as if they were free, which they nearly are, costing only about .5 cents (“Plastic”). The average lifespan of a grocery bag is only twelve minutes, and the average family uses sixty bags a month. By the time one gets home from the grocery store, the bags in the back seat are nearly ninety in “bag-years”. It is for this reason that every hour, nearly two hundred thousand plastic bags are land filled (“Plastic”). Early man-made plastics were first created in the 1850’s, though were not widely used until the early to mid 1900’s. In 1916, Rolls Royce began using plastics in its cars, boasting about their new strong, but lightweight technology. Scotch tape used plastics in its products in 1930, and polyethylene, fundamentally the same material used in plastic bags, began being used in radar during World War II. PVC was produced in the UK in the 1940’s as new war technology, and the prototype for the plastic shopping bag was created in the early 1950’s. Though they were first created in the fifties, they were not used widespread until the late seventies or early eighties (“A History”). The first plastic doll, Barbie, was introduced in 1959. This was a giant breakthrough in the use of plastics; the parents of young girls were flocking to the stores to get their daughters the new plastic Barbie dolls. Silicone breast implants were pioneered successfully in 1962, and Kevlar,...
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