Plastic carrier bags first started to make their way onto the market in the 1960s, but it was not until the late 1970s early 1980s that they were commonplace on the high street.
A cheap and convenient alternative to shopping baskets and cloth bags, plastic carrier bags soon became part of everyday life, and while they were mainly used to transport groceries home from the local supermarket, many of us found our packed lunches, school PE kits, and swimming costumes bagged up in a trusty carrier before we headed off to school.
Fast forward 40 years, and we now find that our plastic carrier bags are having a detrimental impact on the environment, and in the Governments attempt to reduce the amount we use, we are being encouraged to return to our cloth bags and baskets – now that’s evolution!
For many of us, a carrier bag is simply a useful item that helps us transport our purchases from one location to another, but what many people do not know, is how plastic carrier bags are made, and what we should be looking out for as a consumer.
Plastic carrier bags are made from two major ingredients: Petroleum and natural gas. Through a variety of chemical processes, these ingredients are separated and converted into polymers. These polymers are then used to make ethylene, which in turn forms molecular chains, and these chains create the final product of Polythene, a type of plastic.
Polythene comes in many different forms, but HDPE (high-density polythene) and LDPE (low-density polythene) are the forms most commonly used to make plastic carrier bags. The general rule is the higher the density, the stronger the bag, although both HDPE and LDPE carrier bags are flexible and waterproof.
HDPE carrier bags are listed as a number 2 recyclable plastic, meaning they can be easily recycled into other goods. LDPE carrier bags are listed as a number 4, and are therefore more difficult to recycle.
Many carrier bag manufacturers now mix additives into their carrier bags, to help the polythene degrade under the influence of light and heat, and if consumers reuse their bags as often as possible before sending them to the recycle plant, we can reduce the negative influence plastic carrier bags have on the environment.