The plastic bag: forever and ever

Oropallo, Gabriele (2018) The plastic bag: forever and ever. Form, 274. pp. 106-111. ISSN 0015-7678


The plastic bag’s primary function is to contain, and contain it will with an unmatched resilience. After it has taken its first breath by the cashier of a grocery store, when left to its own devices, the plastic bag will contain the currents of the wind or those of the water, its membrane-like body continuing to behave according to its original design programme, even when no human users are employing it. Both the success and stigma the polyethylene plastic bag has accrued since it was first designed in the early 1960s are a result of its very resilience. This article examines the transition of the plastic bag from ingenious object of utilitarian use into icon of environmentalist campaigns, which eventually fed into legislation aimed at reducing its use. The article analyses the design programme of the most common type of single-use carrier bag, the 't-shirt plastic bag,' originally conceived in the early 1960s. It then introduce the concept of 'litter aesthetics.' Finally, it will argue that the story of the plastic bag provides an illustration of an approach to environmental problems in which the central role is played by the promotion of individual action through consumer choice.

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