Monday, May 27, 2019

Keeping America beautiful with "NEW miracle Plastic"

Found recently in the wild: A never-opened package of six Car-Mate plastic litter bags1 intended for use in the car or elsewhere in the great outdoors. The packaging measures 7½ inches by 10 inches and, perhaps given all that real estate, there's an incredible amount of text that's working very hard to convince Americans to use plastic bags to stop the spread of litter.

When was this made and sold in stores? I tried my best figure that out, but didn't come up with a definitive answer. The best clues I have to go on are (1) the woman's hairstyle and skirt length and (2) the reference to the bags being "Made with NEW miracle Plastic — Space Age Technology used by our Astronauts in space flight."2 Based on those clues, I'm going to peg this product for the late 1960s.

So, about 50 years ago...

I'm sure many younger folks find it hard to fathom that, just a half-century ago, we were still in the early stages of urging people to collect their trash in plastic bags. The Plasticplace Blog has an interesting two-part history (Part I, Part II), written by Shira Feldman. Here's an excerpt:
"In 1950, Canadian inventors Harry Wasylyk and Larry Hansen invented the garbage bag. Wasylyk created the bag in his kitchen, made out of stretchy, waterproof polyethylene. He pioneered the bags through a process called “extrusion,” converting small resin pellets into bags of plastic – the pellets were heated and pressured to make them pliable, then blown into bags, which were sealed at one end.

"The first garbage bags were green, not black, and were intended for commercial use, not home use. Subsequently, the bag’s first customer was the Winnipeg General Hospital, which was trying to prevent the spread of polio. Union Carbide Company bought the bag idea and, in the late 1960s, manufactured the first bag for home use under the name Glad trash bags. It soon added one marketing improvement: the twist-tie (which had already been invented in 1923). Next, drawstring bags appeared in 1984."
Plastic trash bags entering the home market in the late 1960s would dovetail nicely with my guess that these small Car-Mate plastic bags are also from the late 1960s. And the price, for that time, was not cheap. Sixty-nine cents in, say, 1967 — the year "plastics" was given as advice to Ben Braddock in The Graduate — would be the equivalent of about $5.25 today. That's not a great price for six small plastic bags. That's probably why the bags are touted as "REUSABLE" on the packaging. (If only "reusable" and not "disposable" had become our mantra 50 years ago...)

Here's a rundown of the other advertising language on this package:

  • with ZIP-ON/ZIP-OFF and STRETCH-ON fasteners for all cars including NEW models!
  • COLORFUL [huh?]
  • America is your front yard..
    Don't be a litterbug
  • "YOU CAN FEEL THE DIFFERENCE!" and "Color Matched to all car interiors." These two statements are near a small oval cut-out that allows you to see and feel the plastic.

Now that this item has been documented, the only reasonable things to do are: (1) open the package, (2) recycle the paperboard at one of the dwindling number of places that still accepts it, and (3) fulfill the original destiny of the plastic bags by using them to collect trash. Then all we can do is hope the filled plastic bags make it to the landfill or incinerator and don't further pollute our damaged planet.

1. Car-Mate was a product of Tiny Tote, Inc., of Little Silver, New Jersey. Little Silver was first settled by Peter Parker, among others, in the 1660s.
2. According to HowStuffWorks, the word astronaut "first appeared in the English language in 1929, probably in science fiction, but it wasn't commonly used until December 1958. That's when the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) adopted the word 'astronaut' as the name for the men (and eventually women) it would train to compete in the space race."
3. According to its website, "Keep America Beautiful formed in 1953 when a group of corporate and civic leaders met in New York City to bring the public and private sectors together to develop and promote a national cleanliness ethic." The first public service announcement about litter was issued in 1956, and Keep America Beautiful began its relationship with the Ad Council in 1960.

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