We took them for granted for many years but now the polythene bag is under attack from new initiatives to limit consumption. However, as recent history has proved, the plastic bag as it is otherwise called will be a difficult habit to break for many shoppers.
Like many of the world’s greatest inventions, Polyethylene, the material used to make plastic bags, was actually invented at the tail end of the Victorian era in 1898. It would be another 67 years before a Swedish company called Celloplast came up with the design we know today.
The plastic bag despite its great strength and durability didn’t really catch on at first with most western countries preferring to hang on to the traditional paper bag. What eventually swung it for plastic bags was partly down to price – they were cheaper to produce and they could be taken anywhere including outside, which was where the humble paper bag would lose the battle in wet weather.
The 80s and 90s proved to be a golden age for the plastic bag with 75% of supermarkets supplying them to customers by the end of 1985. With so many bags in circulation around the world and fast growing populations, the demand for plastic bags rose to a level that was viewed as bad for the environment and unsustainable in the long term.
This is why supermarkets are now charging customers 5p per bag in an effort to reduce dependence and encourage shoppers to reuse the ones they have. The results so far have been broadly positive but a huge amount of bags amounting to tens of millions are reported to have been stolen from supermarkets in England alone.