It’s got a long one. It starts as petrochemical, but may also be a renewable resource such as cellulose or starch.
The starch and cellulose origins are simply plants such as corn or trees. The oil comes from the ground, is shipped to a refinery where it goes under a complicated process to remove impurities, and to economically separate different grades. Part of the oil is suited for gasoline, while other parts are more suited to pave roads.
You might think from the eHow article that making them from plastic is simple, and on the surface it isn’t much more than using a blown film through a plastic extruder, then cooling it. Lol. Basically that means forcing a very thin layer of plastic tube through a die, then letting it cool as it falls. But as page 14 of the second citation demonstrates, there have been patent disputes about the subtlies for decades.
The next step is use, and there’s where the biggest ecological problem happens, because there are many circumstances where the bags to not degrade. The reason they were made illegal in southeast Asian countries is that it was found they were creating impromptu sandbags in sewars. Another problem is that they trap animals, for example at garbage dumps.
Finally, to add to the joy of the whole process, even though they can be recycled or burnt, a huge number just end up creating tiny nurdles of plastic. It’s possible these nurdles do NOT ever degrade naturally, and it’s definite they have been already found in wildlife globally.
So it’s not a pretty situation, and there’s good reason to avoid them in favor of paper bags, or permanent containers.
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