Here is a list of things that are thicker than a typical plastic grocery bag: A strand of hair. A coat of paint. A human cornea.
High-density polyethylene is a miracle of materials science. Despite weighing less than 5 grams, one bag can hold 17 pounds, well over 1,000 times its own weight. At about a penny apiece, the bags are cheap enough for stores to give away and sturdy enough to carry home two gallons of milk in the evening and still be up to the task of scooping Cujo's poop the next morning.
Yet almost as soon as grocers started offering their customers the choice of "paper or plastic?" these modern marvels became a whipping boy for environmentalists, politicians, and other well-intentioned, ill-informed busybodies. Plastic bags for retail purchases are banned or taxed in more than 200 municipalities and a dozen countries, from San Francisco to South Africa, Bellingham to Bangladesh. Each region serves up its own custom blend of alarmist rhetoric; coastal areas blame the wispy totes for everything from asphyxiated sea turtles to melting glaciers, while inland banners decry the bags' role in urban landscape pollution and thoughtless consumerism.
But a closer look at the facts and figures reveals shaky science and the uncritical repetition of improbable statistics tossed about to shore up the case for a mostly aesthetic, symbolic act of conservation.
How did one of the most efficient, resource-saving inventions of the 20th century become an environmentalist bugaboo? Más...