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Plastic shopping bag

Plastic shopping bags/Carrier bags are a common type of shopping bag in several countries. Most often these bags are intended for a single use to carry items from a store to a home: reuse for storage or trash is common. Heavier duty plastic shopping bags are suitable for multiple uses as shopping or storage bags.



Plastic shopping bags are usually made of polyethylene. This can be low-density , resin identification code 4, or high-density, resin identification code 2.

Although not in use today, plastic shopping bags could be made from Polylactic acid (PLA) a biodegradable polymer derived from lactic acid.[1] This is one form of vegetable-based bioplastic. This material biodegrades quickly under composting conditions and does not leave toxic residue. However, bioplastic can have its own environmental impacts, depending on the way it is produced. Recyclability of this experimental material is unproven: resin identification code 7 is applicable.

Bags made of biodegradable polythene film, which decompose when exposed to sun, air, and moisture, and are also suited for composting have been proposed as an alternative to conventional plastic shopping bags. However, they do not readily decompose in a sealed landfill and represent a possible contaminant to plastic recycling operations. Resin identification code 7 is applicable.

Environmental issues

Plastic shopping bags have advantages and disadvantages when compared to alternatives such as paper bags. Heavy duty mulitple-use shopping bags are often considered environmentally better than single-use paper or plastic shopping bags. Single-use bags can be recycled, or can be reused by individuals as trash bags, storage bags, etc.


The durability, strength, low cost, water and chemicals resistance, welding properties, lesser energy and heavy chemicals requirements in manufacture, fewer atmosphere emissions and light weight are advantages of plastic bags. Many studies comparing plastic versus paper for shopping bags show that plastic bags have less net environmental effect than paper bags, requiring less energy to produce, transport and recycle; however these studies also note that recycling rates for plastic are significantly lower than for paper.[2] Plastic bags can be incinerated in appropriate facilities for waste-to-energy. Plastic bags are stable and benign in sanitary landfills.[3] Plastic carrier bags can be reused as trash bags or bin bags. Plastic bags are complimentary in many locations but are charged or "taxed" in others.


The following disadvantages have also been identified:

  • Plastic bags are made of petrochemicals, a nonrenewable resource.
  • Plastic bags are flimsy and often do not stand up as well as paper or cloth.
  • When disposed of improperly, they are unsightly and represent a hazard to wildlife.
  • Conventional plastic bags are not readily biodegradable under any normal circumstance.
  • Plastic bags can cause unsupervised infants to suffocate.


According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, only 1% of plastic bags were recycled in 2000.[2] When one ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil is saved.[2]

According to the UK government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there are several problems with plastic recycling, and in particular plastic bags:[4]

  • the high volume to weight ratio of plastic means that the collection and transport of this waste is difficult and expensive
  • there are often high levels of contamination in plastic making the recyclate less usable, especially where food products are involved
  • there is a very wide range of plastics in use and segregation is difficult
  • the market for using recycled plastic is underdeveloped

Solutions by country


In Australia shoppers are now encouraged to buy bags called "green bags" which cost a few dollars, but can be reused many times. The bags are coloured depending on the company that sells them. Some "green bags" are insulated for the carrying of hot or cold items. Locally, the town of Coles Bay in Tasmania banned plastic shopping bags in April, 2003. [5]


Plastic shopping bags are banned in Bangladesh, where they are thought to cause flooding during monsoons by clogging drains.[citation needed]


Growing awareness of the ecological impact of plastic bags have led main mass retailers to force customers to buy reusable plastic or non-woven bags. This has been adopted by supermarkets (like Carrefour) - they manage out of that scheme to improve their image and save the purchase of the former plastic bags. Nonfood related retailers (like Cloth) tend to prefer to switch to paper bags, allowing them to match the ecological demand & upgrade their image on two aspects: ecology & quality. In Paris, a ban on plastic bags will take effect in late 2007; a nationwide ban is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2010.


Generally, most German supermarkets charge between 5 and 25 cents per single-use bag, depending on the type of bag. Most shops also offer cloth bags or sturdier, woven plastic bags for about €1, encouraging shoppers to re-use them. Many high-street retail shops will provide bags free of charge. Most people will re-use single-use shopping bags, i.e., for collecting deposit bottles or using them as bin liners.[citation needed]


On March 4, 2002 the Republic of Ireland introduced a €0.15 levy on every plastic shopping bag. This led to a 95% reduction in use and increased use of reusable bags.[6] The money gathered by the levy was used to raise money for environmental initiatives. Many retailers in Ireland switched to supplying (untaxed) paper bags, or simply stopped supplying bags. Most supermarkets continued to supply plastic bags, subject to the tax. The charge was increased to €0.22 on July 1, 2007. [7]


Almost any store you visit in Japan, from convenience stores to street vendors, will also net you a free plastic bag for your purchase. Although there are some supermarkets (like Kyoto Co-op) which charge for plastic bags, this is by no means the norm. Many supermarkets (like Izumiya) will give you extra points on your point-card if you bring your own bag[citation needed].

New Zealand

In recent years cloth bags have been promoted and sold by some supermarkets as an alternative to plastic bags. In August 2006 the Collingwood community in Golden Bay declared itself shopping bag free by a group of local residents who promoted the idea. In early 2007 a nationwide campaign was kicked off with the aim of introducing a shopping bag levy similar to Ireland's.[8]

In the town of Wanaka in the South Island the Bag the Habit Campaign has converted almost 50% of shoppers to say no to plastic bags. This saves around 1,500 plastic bags from ending up in the landfill every day. Wanaka has a permanent population of around 7,000 and visitor numbers of around 600,000. 30% of retail stores are now plastic bag free and Wanaka looks set to have the first plastic bag free supermarket in New Zealand with the 4 Square supermarket committing to removing plastic bags from their operation within 12 months. The end goal is for the town to be plastic bag free and over summer campaigners will be targeting the masses of visitors that come to enjoy the natural beauty of the town.

South Africa

Mohammed Valli Moosa, the Environment and Tourism Minister of South Africa, jokingly named them the "national flower" of that country, and worked to introduce a minimum legal thickness of 30 micrometres to increase their cost, reusability, and recyclability. They may not be legally given away to shoppers, and must instead be sold, however this rule is not always enforced strictly.[citation needed] The South African government collects a 3 cents per shopping bag environmental levy.


Plastic shopping bags have created major environmental problems throughout Turkey. Currently, Turkish people use on average 1.2 bags per day each, most of which end up not being disposed properly. The government has launched a feasibility study into the movement towards envirobags, however this is not due till late 2008.

United Kingdom

Growing awareness in the UK of the problems caused by indiscriminate use of plastic bags is encouraging some large retailers to reward customers who bring their own bags or who reuse or recycle existing bags. This has been adopted by Tesco, who call it the 'Green Bag Scheme'. This scheme gives the customer a "Green Clubcard Point" (see Tesco Clubcard), which has the monetary value of between 1p and 4p, for every bag they reuse (or indeed if they use any bag that isn't taken from the Tesco bag holders, such as a backpack they own).[9]

Retailers in Modbury have voluntarily eliminated usage of plastic bags, the first town in the country to do so. More towns are following suit, with campaigns in Lyme Regis in Dorset, Hebden Bridge, Exeter and Brighton. The Saffron Walden branch of Waitrose has eliminated free carriers completely, only supplying bags for life, with other branches within the chain trialling individual "green tills" where no free bags are supplied. No frills supermarket chains Aldi, Lidl and prior to its closure in July 2007, Kwik Save, charged 3 pence (5p in Kwik Save) for customers to use their plastic bags, to encourage people to take less and cut costs.

A campaign called has started in the UK and is spreading around the world. It involves making shopping bags out of recycled, unwanted material and handing them out for free. It is known as 'sociable guerilla bagging' and it's free for anyone around the world to join up and join in - 'make a bag, make a difference'.

In 2007, IKEA became the country's first national retailer to abandon traditional plastic bags, in favour of their own range of blue bags which come in 2 sizes: a large regular blue bag and a brand new "baby blue" Bag.[10]

On 24 July 2007 commenced a petition for a 10p tax to be introduced on disposable plastic bags, with the money raised to be spent specifically on environmental projects. The petition was specifically endorsed by the Green Party and more than 10,000 signatures were obtained within the first two months. Letters about the petition were sent to Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Hilary Benn, Chancellor Alistair Darling and Prime Minister Gordon Brown. At the Liberal Democrats conference in September 2007 the Lib Dem party activists called for a tax on plastic bags in similar terms.[11]

Following an online survey the London Councils announced on 13 November 2007 that the 10th London Local Authorities Bill would include a provision to ban the distribution of free throw-away shopping bags in the capital.[12] If the Bill is passed by Parliament, it is expected to become law by mid-2009.

United States

Plastic bags largely displaced paper bags as the most common type of shopping bag during the late 1980s and early 1990s. There has been no broad government action against the litter problem: Proper household waste management (reuse when possible and not littering) is considered a personal responsibility or a locally enforced misdemeaner. Some local governments have enacted ordinances, and many stores allow customers to return the bags for recycling. Empty bags carried on the wind are popularly known as "urban tumbleweed."

On March 27, 2007, the City and County of San Francisco became the first city to ban common plastic shopping bags, followed shortly thereafter by nearby Oakland. Starting July 2007, all large supermarkets in the state of California will be required, by law, to take back and recycle plastic shopping bags.[13]

Portland Oregon is next to ban Plastic bags according to Thanh Tan of news Channel KATU. See the news Video. Plastic shopping bags are banned in at least 30 villages and towns in Alaska, including the towns of Emmonak, Galena, and Kotlik.[14]

Ikea, the home furnishings retailer, imposes its own charge for plastic shopping bags in the US — charging $0.05 to any customer who wants a plastic sack.[15] A similar charge has been in place since spring 2006 at Ikea stores in the UK, and the company says it has reduced use of bags in UK stores by 95 percent. Ikea hopes the 5-cent fee in the U.S. cuts bag use in half, from 70 million bags a year to 35 million.[citation needed]


The island of Zanzibar banned the import and use of plastic shopping bags in November, 2006. People who litter used bags are responsible for a significant problem, and government officials enacted the ban to protect tourism, an economic mainstay for the island.[16].

See also


  1. ^ Notes from the Packaging Laboratory: Polylactic Acid -- An Exciting New Packaging Material
  2. ^ a b c Questions About Your Community: Shopping Bags: Paper or Plastic or . . .?
  3. ^ Slate Explainer, "Will My Plastic Bag Still Be Here in 2507?" 27 June 2007.
  4. ^ What happens to waste: Plastics & plastic bags
  5. ^ Planet Ark: Coles Bay, Australia's First Plastic Bag Free Town
  6. ^ Irish bag tax hailed success
  7. ^ RTÉ News - 'One plastic bag now costs 22c'
  8. ^ bagsNOT
  9. ^ Green Clubcard Points
  10. ^ IKEA Website
  11. ^ uktv Documentary
  12. ^ London Councils' press release 13/11/2007
  13. ^ AB 2449 (Levine) Plastic Bag Litter and Waste Reduction
  14. ^ Banning Plastic Bags From Your Community
  15. ^ IKEA U.S. 'Bag The Plastic Bag' Initiative Asks Customers to Stop Plastic Bag Waste
  16. ^ [1]


  • Selke, S, "Packaging and the Environment", 1994, ISBN 1566761042
  • Selke, S,. "Plastics Packaging", 2004, ISBN 1569903727
  • Stillwell, E. J, "Packaging for the Environment", A. D. Little, 1991, ISBN 0814450741
  • Scheirs, J., "Polymer Recycling: Science, Technology and Applications", 1998, ISBN 0471970549
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Plastic_shopping_bag". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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