Death By Plastic



Plastic Bag in the Sun Via. Ethan Scott Barnett

During the 1950s children all across the nation were dying because of suffocation in plastic bags. These bags were used to cover dry cleaning and protect goods in the store, and they were made from larger pieces of plastic. [1] In response to the plastic bag deaths of the mid 20th century, plastic bags were soon printed with a growing number of warnings. The bag above reads, “TO AVOID DANGER OF SUFFOCATION, KEEP THIS PLASTIC BAG AWAY FROM BABIES AND CHILDREN…THE PLASTIC BAG COULD BLOCK NOSE AND MOUTH AND PREVENT BREATHING. THIS BAG IS NOT A TOY”. This warning points to the longer history of plastic bags being introduced to society through trial and error.

“Rash of Plastic Bag Child Deaths Relief in ‘Breathers’.” Wilmington Daily Press (Wilmington, California), June 10, 1959. Accessed May 10, 2018.

In the 1950s the outcry against death by plastic bag started to become a national discussion, suffocation from plastic was magnetized because of the growing rate of suicides among adults and unintentional smothering of infants. An article in California’s Wilmington Daily Press Journal reported that “legislatures have considered passing laws restricting” plastic in small businesses like cleaning and laundry shops. The pressure from the public and government legislators led bag producers to rethink their practices. Paul Cohen, who had been president of the Technical Tape Corporation located in New Rochelle, N.Y., remarked that the company considered creating “breathable plastic bag” that “would be full of pinholes. ” In the event that a child was covered by the bag, then that “infant could breathe”.[2] It is unclear if this bag ever went into mass-production or was produced at all.

Chris Jordan

Midway: Message from the Gyre (2009) by Chris Jordan

Today, plastic bag deaths for humans aren’t as common, but there are a growing number of complaints about bags from environmental activists who have documented an increasing number of deaths in animals,  from small birds and squirrels to massive creatures like whales and octopi. In a survey done on life in San Francisco, it was recognized that approximately 400 birds died from ingesting plastic bags during the year of 2013. One of the most recent examples of plastic bags’ fatal repercussions that reached international attention is when a whale beached themselves on a Norwegian beach, the Washington Post reported that there were “about 30 plastic bags…packed in its stomach.”[3]

While there is growing public understanding of the impact of plastic bags on our species, people still seem to have trouble understanding the broad impact of their everyday behaviors.



Back                                                                                   Next



[1] Wisely, Lawrence J. “Plastic Bag Death Toll In U.S. Is Placed at 44.” Courier-Post (Camden, New Jersey), May 14, 1959. Accessed May 10, 2018.

[2]”Rash of Plastic Bag Child Deaths Relief in ‘Breathers’.” Wilmington Daily Press (Wilmington, California), June 10, 1959. Accessed May 10, 2018. Bag child death.

[3] Papenfuss, Mary. “Beached Whale Found With 30 Plastic Bags Crammed In Its Belly.” The Huffington Post. February 04, 2017. Accessed May 01, 2018.