It is apparent that the widespread use of plastic bags has had severe consequences. These ubiquitous polyethylene sacks photodegrade over hundreds of years, breaking down into smaller pieces that are easily ingested by animals, especially in marine ecosystems. Fortunately, numerous municipal bans on single-use plastic bag have been enacted as well as several state-wide bans in the U.S., including California, Hawaii, and Michigan. On a larger scale, countries such as Bangladesh, Rwanda, China, and Kenya have prohibited the use of plastic bags across the respective nation. These efforts will hopefully have a significant impact on reducing future accumulation of plastic in the environment. However, the current dilemma involving enormous collections of plastics in select regions of the globe is the result of a decades-long affair with single-use plastic bags, with origins of the bags’ rise to popularity rooted in Sweden.
The Swedish company Celloplast developed the predecessor to the standard plastic bag commonly found in groceries today as a “tube-like” plastic packaging material. Celloplast patented this in a U.S. application in 1962 (US 3027065) which attracted attention of a plastics mogul, ExxonMobile, who was invested in pushing the use of polyethylene products. The predominance of the plastic bag ensued during the 1980s when Safeway and Kroger switched from paper to plastic bags as their primary type of “disposable” grocery bag. In the subsequent decades, ecologically devastating masses of debris, such as the Great Pacific Garbage patch, have formed with a large portion of its content attributable to plastics.
While alternatives such as biodegradable plastic bags (US 7265188) and compostable bags (US 5097004) have been developed, avoiding single-use plastic bags altogether is undoubtedly the best solution for the future. Hopefully, as demonstrated by the commercial dominance of Celloplast’s tubes of packaging material, patenting of novel methods to remove and treat plastic debris (e.g., CN 205820126, US 20160185618, US 20080223758, JP 2005058923) from the environment will experience a similar level of success.