The Rise and Fall of Single-Use Plastic Bags

July 24, 2019

Most people reading this article will be unable to remember a time when smartphones, such as the iPhone, didn't exist. Believe it or not, the iPhone debuted a paltry 12 years ago this summer. Think about it, 13 years ago, people couldn't dial up their favorite website, blog, or shopping experience on their smartphone; couldn't text practically anyone day or night at the tap of a few buttons; nor could they post a photo to social media from virtually anywhere in the world so long as they were in close proximity to a Wi-FI or a cellular connection. My how times have changed!

Similarly, most people reading this article will have very little recollection of a time when single-use plastic bags didn't exist. Their use pre-dates the iPhone, but not by as many years as you think, especially here in the United States.

The Birth of Single Use Bags

While the birth of the single-use plastic bag can be traced back to an accidental discovery in England in 1933 that led to the use of polyethylene by the British military during World War II, the one-piece polyethylene shopping bag wasn't patented until 1965 in Sweden. From there, it grew to replace cloth and plastic bags in Europe and eventually spread to the United States in 1979.

In the United States, it took a while to catch on, especially in rural areas, but by 1982 Safeway and Kroger had adopted plastic bags in their stores and numerous competitors followed suit.

Then at the 1985 convention for the Society of Plastic Engineers, a speaker praised the virtues of inexpensive single-use plastic bags when compared to paper bags. Retailers were sold on the idea and the rest, as they say, is history.

By the early 1990s, plastic bags had all but replaced the use of paper bags worldwide.

Something's Not Right

In 1997, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered by sailor and researcher Charles Moore. This plastic accumulation zone is located halfway between Hawaii and California and is now estimated to cover an area twice the size of Texas . . . and it continues to grow.

The most immediate threat from plastics like this in the ocean is to marine life. Plastic bags are well-known for killing sea turtles, whales, and other marine life, which mistakenly think they are prey and ingest them.

Fortunately, the discovery and publicity of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began to wake consumers up to the threat of plastics in general and the problem of what to do, specifically, with leftover plastic bags.

Taking Action

When thin plastic bags were discovered to have played a critical role in clogging drainage systems during severe flooding in Bangladesh in 2002, the country moved to ban single-use plastic bags. Bangladesh is credited as the first to do so.

In 2007, San Francisco passed a ban on single-use plastic bags. While legal and political maneuvering delayed the ban until 2012, it helped bring attention to the growing problem of plastics—particularly single use plastic bags—in the environment.

Throughout the 2010s, many states and municipalities across the country, from California to New York, New Jersey, and the northeast, enacted bans or taxes on single use plastic bags and other types of plastics. Still others are in the public comment/rule-making stage.

  • In New Hampshire, lawmakers at the state level introduced bills to ban the use of plastic bags and plastic straws across the state, while also encouraging cities and towns to enact their own similar regulations should statewide efforts falter.
  • In October 2018, organizations responsible for 20% of the plastic packaging produced around the world launched the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to investigate ways of reducing plastic waste and pollution. Among the chief goals of the more than 250 organizations involved is to find ways to ensure that 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted.
  • In Boston, a ban on the use of plastic bags in stores and restaurants took effect in December 2018. Stores can now only give out reusable bags, recyclable paper bags, or compostable bags to customers. Customers can expect to pay at least 5-cents per bag for compostable plastic bags with handles—or they can bring their own re-usable bags.
  • In January 2019, the city of San Diego began banning the use of extruded polystyrene in food and drink containers, egg cartons, ice coolers, swimming pool toys, mooring buoys, and navigation markers.
  • In April 2019, Maine became the first state to ban single-use Styrofoam cups and containers. The ban goes into effect January 1, 2021. It bans grocery stores, restaurants, cafes, and other eateries from using cups or containers made from polystyrene.

Solutions from Belvedere Exclusive

With single use plastic bags becoming a thing of the past, many retailers are making the switch to reusable grocery bags, offering them for sale or as premium promotional give-away item to consumers. Made from recycled and sustainable materials, reusable shopping bags perform the same function as single-use bags, but don’t end up clogging landfills or marine environments.

Consumers and retailers can do their part to fight plastic pollution by using reusable shopping bags such as those produced by Belvedere Exclusive. 

Belvedere Exclusive is the premier source for environmentally-friendly reusable tote bags, insulated cooler bags, canvas tote bags, and other related products. All of our products are recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable/compostable.

Not only is this approach good for complying with current and anticipated future laws and being environmentally responsible, but reusable shopping bags imprinted with your company’s logo create brand ambassadors out of your customers, boosting impressions and building brand awareness.

Belvedere’s VALUE Collection

Belvedere offers the lowest cost FOB USA non-woven shopping bags on the market: 100-gram PP non-woven, PP-5 recyclable, fully customized in six different sizes to fully meet your business needs. Our flexible program offers discounts over multiple ship dates, and bags are available in both screen printed and full color all for under $1.00 per bag! Learn More

Belvedere’s ECO Collection

Made from recycled products, these 100-gram Recycled PET non-woven, PETE-1 recyclable bags are fully customizable and come in three different sizes. They’re available in as low as 10 carton increments with three different printing methods depending on art. This is our premium product designed to help you make your eco-statement! Learn More

Get a Quote

We invite you to get a no-strings attached quote on Belvedere Exclusive bags, which are already in use with many high-profile brands around the country.

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