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How plastic bags came to rule our lives, and why we can’t quit them.

Via TOPIC: “The story of the plastic bag—the kind that is so ubiquitous in grocery stores, in gutters, in the branches of trees—is a story of persuasion, one that began with a battle between paper and plastic in the hearts of the American people. “People are fond of the old paper bag,” Peter Bunten explained to the New York Times in 1984. “It’s as American as the flag and apple pie and all those other red, white, and blue clichés.” At the time, Bunten worked for American Paper Institute, and the plastic bag, first introduced to grocery stores in 1979, was ready to challenge the paper bag’s supremacy over how people carted home groceries—a $600 million market at the time. To the plastics industry, the grocery bag was “the last stronghold” of the American supermarket, Ronald Schmeider, marketing manager at Mobil Chemical, a subsidiary of what is now ExxonMobil, told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. Plastics already had conquered the meat tray, the egg carton, and the produce and bread bag, jobs previously performed by paper. But the paper grocery bag proved harder to supplant…The general public, however, was sold the sack on the prospects for reuse. “The Plastic Grocery Sack Council says plastic bags can be reused in more than 17 different ways, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986, “including as a wrap for frozen foods, a jogger’s wind breaker or a beach bag.” By 1988, about 40 percent of US grocery bags were plastic. By 2003, the American Plastics Council estimated plastic’s market share was close to 80 percent. Estimates made over a decade ago suggest somewhere between 500 billion and 1.5 trillion plastic bags are consumed globally each year at a rate of more than a million a minute…”

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