Plastic Bags: How Engineers Can Tackle The Menace?

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What are plastic bags?

A flexible packaging item consisting of thin, flexible plastic film is a plastic bag or pouch. Plastic bags are used to store and transport things including food, ice, chemicals, garbage, and powders.

In today’s competitive market, where producers are vying to satisfy frequently-conflicting demands like quality/quantity balance, how to reduce costs, and how to improve the environmental aspects of their product, the packaging is an integral part of a product and plays a vital role.

These requirements are difficult to accomplish, but when plastic film entered the market, manufacturers were able to satisfy consumer demand by doing more with less. This is the cause of the global market introduction of plastic bags. The lifetime of plastic bags, beginning with the moment they become a waste product, is an important consideration that is sometimes overlooked when using vast quantities of plastic bags. The expense of the plastic bag’s impact on the environment has skyrocketed.

The plastic bag is typically regarded from the perspective of waste management as one of the major litter-producing products, with cigarette butts having the highest rating. 

Engineers were crucial in the development of plastic film packaging, and now they are being questioned about how to make it vanish or degrade in a way that is safe for the environment. To find a solution for the plastic bag issue’s future utility, a comprehensive approach is required.

Historical background of plastic bags

In the United States, the first plastic bags appeared as food packaging in the 1970s. Later, they were utilized as trash or waste bags, or bin bags. The commercial production of the first plastic bags began in 1973. As a replacement for paper sacks, the plastic grocery bag was introduced to the supermarket business in 1977.

Markets saw a huge increase in the number of plastic bags offered at supermarkets during the 1980s. Supermarkets begin by asking: “Plastic or paper.” Consumer disgust and criticism of the effects of plastic on the environment peaked in the 1990s.

Bags began to expand. Denmark was the first country to impose a fee on plastic bags in 1994 as a result. Interestingly, a cheap and practical type of plastic film packaging has turned out to be highly expensive for the environment due to the toll that plastic bags may take on the ecosystem.

Their component molecules take between 400 and 1,000 years to break down, and they remain in the environment for a very long time.

Typically, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which comes from crude oil, is used to make plastic bags. One kilogram of HDPE is said to require 1.75 kilograms of petroleum (in terms of energy and raw materials) to manufacture.

In terms of their harm to animals, plastic bags became a clear environmental risk, especially when improper disposal practices were used. Additionally, this will cost society and upcoming generations more money. Therefore, this instance can be cited as another illustration of an engineering invention employed by the market economy for profit only, without consideration for the product’s afterlife, which is the root of the current waste problem.

Plastic bags in Australia

20 million Australians are known to use 6.7 billion plastic shopping bags annually. The fact that such a small number of people can consume such a large amount of plastic speaks volumes about the wasteful behaviors of modern Australians; this equates to the consumption of almost one plastic bag per person each day. 80 million or more plastic bags are left as trash in our parks, streets, and beaches. Australian Local and State Governments invest more than $200 million annually in litter cleanup. Additionally, it has been noted that… Australia has been paying attention to the severe environmental issues brought on by plastic shopping bags for a while now.

Australia is one of the top nations for its citizens’ strong knowledge of environmental and natural issues, but sadly it shares the same trash problems (i.e., the plastic bag problem) as other western nations because 4 billion HDPE plastic bags are imported annually. The Federal Government and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA)… agreed to cut plastic check-out bag usage by 25% by the end of 2004 and rise to 50% a year later as one attempt to lessen the impact of plastic bags on the environment since 2002. Environmental Ministers back the five-year plan to completely phase out light single-use plastic bags.

Plastic bags in Europe

In general, European nations began addressing the plastic bag issue sooner than Australia, in the 1980s. The European Union’s member states already have solutions to this issue.

The issue of plastic bags is not the only one that needs to be addressed by governments in some way, like many other waste management challenges. Levies and levies appear to be the most straightforward and effective options accessible to governments for enacting justice for consumers and manufacturers of plastic bags. One of the first in Europe to be implemented in 2002, the Republic of Ireland’s charge on plastic shopping bags has reduced their use by more than 90%.

By charging 0.15 euros for each bag, 1.1 billion fewer plastic bags were used, which increased revenue by millions of euros. The promotion of reusable calico bags among consumers has undoubtedly increased environmental consciousness across the country.

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Other European nations are likely to implement plastic bag taxes following Ireland’s success. Reusable or biodegradable bags are already encouraged in France and Belgium. Italy has grown weary of the plastic bag crisis, and England is eager to enact a plastic bag tax. In Germany, grocery store packaging is not provided by retailers unless the customer pays for it.

Why has the difficulty arisen?

The plastic bag issue has swiftly expanded from being only a localized issue with garbage to one that poses serious health and life risks, and can be summarised as follows:

  • Since there are no global regulations regarding their disposal and they are produced in such large quantities today—between four and five trillion are produced annually—plastic bags are a real threat to the environment.
  • They also end up as litter in waterways and clog stormwater drains, which puts stormwater systems at risk. For instance, the recent monsoon rains in India caused drainage systems to get blocked, resulting in more casualties and economic losses.
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where millions of tonnes of trash, including plastic bags, footballs, buckets, and fishing nets, have accumulated over the past 50 years, was created by a lot of trash that is floating across oceans. It continues by saying that It nearly reminds me of plastic soup. For a region that is possibly double the size of the continental United States, it never ends.

The future roles of engineers and educators

A concerted effort is required to address the plastic bag issue to safeguard our ecosystem, not just for current generations but also for those to come. Finding solutions and dismantling the global conspiracy of silence on plastic bags’ usage and improper disposal is a huge problem for engineers and engineering educators. In addition, the general public needs to have access to a quality education program. Public education and fee mechanisms alone will not be sufficient to curb the demand for plastic bags. A plastic bag tax complicates the issue rather than solving it because the 125 customers have already paid for the bags and it might not be feasible to dispose of them.

Plastic bags
Platic bags pollustion

It is not a valid approach to blame and attack large shops and plastic bag makers because the issue is considerably more complicated.

Since engineers have the most in-depth understanding of the product from the extraction of the raw materials through processing, transport, usage, re-use, and recycling, they should be the ones to come up with and propose solutions for the plastic bag problem around the world.

Engineering programs ought to cover the best ways to apply research to the global market for goods. Engineers should receive proper training on how to perform at their best during their studies and, more importantly, on how to succeed in the new global market while simultaneously advancing science and technology from the very beginning of their program.

Governments all across the world should use this scientific understanding as the foundation for their program of plastic bag problem remedies. Engineers and educators should undoubtedly be the main collaborators in such a program.

Engineering educator responsibility in dealing with plastic bags problem

A designed biodegradable plastic film that disintegrates when exposed to air, water, or sunlight is one potential solution to the plastic bag issue. Such bags release chemical residues and consume oxygen during their decomposition, which is undesirable, especially if they wind up in waterways.

A plastic biodegradable bag breaks down considerably more fast than a standard plastic bag, but this tactic does not solve the consumption side of the issue because people can start using them excessively very quickly.

Because neither biodegradable nor used plastic bags are free, the myth that plastic bags are ubiquitous must be widely refuted. It is impossible to ignore the cost of raw materials as well as the energy used during production and environmental pollution. The consumer foots the bill for them through higher purchase costs and will be responsible for covering the cost of disposal. Being charged for something that the common consumer did not want is unfair to them. It has been made clear that: The development of students’ global awareness and their capacity to work on challenging international projects is a significant contemporary trend in engineering leadership education. Many believe that this is the environment in which the engineering leaders of the future will need to function.

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It would be suitable if the consulting engineering body collaborated with engineering educators in producing contemporary and pertinent engineering education courses to enhance future engineering communication throughout the industry. This opinion is supported by several instances of waste management organizations and local governments hiring specialized engineering firms to counsel and work with technical colleges on subjects about waste management and curriculum development.

By applying science to provide long-lasting solutions necessary for better, safer, and healthier living for people everywhere, engineering educators can contribute to a future for plastic bags. Without a doubt, engineering educators would provide creative and enlightened answers to the world’s plastic bag problem by working with sociologists who study people’s behavior.


Because engineers produce wealth and progress and because engineering education supports these processes, the market economy should never undervalue engineers and engineering educators in particular. This may be especially evident when looking at the implications of the plastic bag issue, where the roles of engineering and engineering education have been sorely underappreciated and severely underrated up to this point.

A sustainable future must include measures to decrease the usage of plastic bags. Since none of the suggested remedies apply to all situations, it appears that little progress has been done in this area. Furthermore, it is untrue to think that recycling will solve the plastic bag issue. The quality of the plastic used to make bags is poor, and recycling rates are still quite low. As an alternative, using paper grocery bags is not the preferred course of action as their manufacture requires the removal of trees, their recycling is expensive, and they all contribute to global warming.

Western nations ship massive quantities of plastic bags to underdeveloped nations for disposal. They won’t go away right away, though, and will continue to damage the area’s ecology for hundreds of years before they decompose.

The usage of reusable calico bags should be encouraged and pushed in the interim as it appears to be the quickest and easiest approach to alleviate this severe situation. Concerted efforts should be made to find a universal solution to the problem of plastic bags.

To find the best answers, which may result in completely new technologies, influence groups, specialized organizations, local communities, and governments should encourage engineers and scientists to perform research on the plastic bag problem. For instance, a user-friendly product might be paired with our cars, which appear to be yet another essential purchasing tool. Modern shopping practices would be completely transformed with an integrated, removable shopping basket.

To further inform the public about this crucial issue, a thorough education system should be designed and implemented, with curricula covering concerns and topics related to the plastic bag problem.

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