The History of Plastic Bags

Patent applications that are relevant to the manufacturing of plastic bags date back to the early 1950s. However, these bags were used in industrial processes, particularly for composite construction. The modern-day shopping bag we all know and use today was invented in the early 1960s by Sten Gustaf Thulin, who was a Swedish engineer.

He developed a method of creating plastic bags for a Swedish packaging company, Celloplast. Celloplast, which consisted of folding, wielding and die-cutting a tube of plastic. Thulin’s design effectively produced a plastic bag that was simple, tough, and with a good carrying capacity.  This bag was introduced to the world in 1965 by the same company he developed it for.

Situated in the city of Norrkoping, Celloplast was a renowned manufacturer of cellulose acetate film (also known as safety film) and a pioneer in the techniques of plastic processing. The strong position of the company gave it a virtual monopoly on the production of plastic bags.  Manufacturing plants were set up by the company across the US and Europe.

It wasn’t long until other companies realized the potential of the plastic bag. Eventually, Celloplast’s patent run in the US was overturned by its leading petrochemicals company, Mobil, in 1977.

In the 1980s, the marketing, perfecting, and manufacturing of plastic bags reached massive heights, with companies such as Capitol Poly, Houston Poly Bag, and the Dixie Bag Company playing instrumental roles. So much so, several leading grocery chains, such as Kroger and Safeway, began replacing their paper bags with plastic shopping bags.

Losing its monopoly on the production of plastic bags, Celloplast faced a hard time in rejuvenating its declining business. This led to the company being split up in the 1990s. The site in Norrkoping is still a major production site for plastic in Sweden. But now it is  headed by the company Milijosack, who as the name states, is a manufacturer of waste sacks.

Since the mid 1980s, the use of plastic bags (or poly bags) in numerous applications has become quite common. Not just in the USA, but in countries all around the world. Whether it’s carrying groceries from your vehicle to your home, or getting take-away from your favorite restaurant, plastic bags are playing an important role in many aspects of our lives!