translated from Spanish: The inventor of the plastic bag who wanted to help the planet

The plastic bag is considered one of the most harmful everyday objects for the environment.
But the engineer who invented them more than four decades ago had a very different goal.
Sten Gustaf Thulin (1914-2006) wanted to create an accessible product that, above all, would have a positive impact on the planet.
While there were other applications in the United States and Europe to patent plastic bags in the 1950s, these were complex processes that required several stages of manufacturing.
Thulin, on the other hand, is considered the inventor of the plastic bags we use today.
The engineer developed a method for creating polyethyliene bags in a unique piece for the Swedish packaging company Celloplast, which patented it in 1965.
Sten Gustaf Thulin’s invention was patented in the United States in 1965.At the time supermarkets used paper bags, but this required continually felling millions of trees.
Thulin considered creating a strong, lightweight, durable bag that could be reused numerous times.
Surely the engineer never imagined that his invention would create one of the biggest pollution crises in the world’s oceans.
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“It was a breakthrough in the paper bags”
“My father would have found it very strange if people used a plastic bag once and then thrown it away,” Thulin’s son Raoul Thulin told Laura Foster, the BBC’s environmental journalist.
“The bag he invented was a significant advance on paper bags,” he added.
“And he always had a folded plastic bag in his pocket.”
“My father always had a folded plastic bag in his pocket,” Raoul Thulin told the BBC. Thulin already reused polyethylene bags made from oil decades ago, a behavior many promote today.
The problem is that the invention turned out to be so convenient and inexpensive, that it ended up creating a serious pollution problem.
According to UN Environment, between 70 and 90% of the waste found on the beaches is plastic.
The equivalent of a truck full of plastic waste enters the oceans every minute, according to Greenpeace.And each bag can take about 500 years to degrade, according to estimates.
Plastic waste is severely affecting marine ecosystems.
The plastic garbage island in the north Pacific, for example, is three times larger than the territory of France.
In some countries, plastic bags are charged or banned. Cotton or paper can be worse
Many consumers aware of the problem created by plastic bags are choosing other options, such as paper or cotton bags.
But these can be much worse than plastic ones.
Polyethylene bags are produced on the basis of oil. For Margaret Bates, a professor of sustainable resources and waste recycling expert at the University of Northampton in England, “producing a paper bag requires more energy and much more water than producing a plastic bag.”
“And the cotton bags are even worse. Cotton crops use a lot of water and it is an intensive crop. That’s why we’re also concerned about the use of cotton in the fast fashion business.”
To have the same environmental impact as a reusable plastic bag, you need to use a paper bag three times, and a cotton bag at least 131 times, according to the UK Environment Agency.
So what bag should I use when I go to the supermarket?
To have the same environmental impact as a plastic bag you reuse, you need to use a cotton bag at least 131 times, according to the UK Environment Agency.Sten Gustav Thulin would surely recommend always carrying a plastic bag.
For Laura Foster, the best advice is “use the bags you already have, again and again and again.”
“And when they break, recommend or recycle them.”

Original source in Spanish

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