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As plastic bags increasingly replaced paper bags, and as other plastic materials and products replaced glass, metal, stone, timber and other materials, a packaging materials war erupted, with plastic shopping bags at the center of highly publicized disputes.
In 1992, Sonoco Products Company of Hartsville, SC patented the "self-opening polyethylene bag stack". Although few peer-reviewed studies or government surveys have provided estimates for global plastic bag use, environmental activists estimate that between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide.
They will not break down easily and as a result may be harmful to wildlife.
Each year millions of discarded plastic shopping bags end up as plastic waste litter in the environment when improperly disposed of.
In recent decades, numerous countries have introduced legislation restricting the sale of plastic bags, in a bid to reduce littering and plastic pollution.
American and European patent applications relating to the production of plastic shopping bags can be found dating back to the early 1950s, but these refer to composite constructions with handles fixed to the bag in a secondary manufacturing process.
However, other companies saw the attraction of the bag, too, and the US petrochemicals group Mobil overturned Celloplast's US patent in 1977.
The same properties that have made plastic bags so commercially successful and ubiquitous—namely their low weight and resistance to degradation—have also contributed to their proliferation in the environment.
Due to their durability, plastic bags can take centuries to decompose.
The Dixie Bag Company of College Park, Georgia, owned and operated by Jack W.
Mc Bride, was one of the first companies to exploit this new opportunity to bring convenient products to all major shopping stores.