Thursday, January 22, 2015

Selma's Garbage Bag Problem

We thought it would be a good idea to finally see Selma on MLK Day.  And it was.  I'm hoping to get a post up on why before long.  But there was one scene that jarred me and I've done a little checking.

MLK and his wife are in the kitchen.  He takes a full garbage bag out from under the sink.  It's a clear plastic bag.  He empties it and then she unrolls a new bag which puts bag under the sink for the rest of the garbage.

What's wrong with that scene?  My problem has nothing to do with division of household labor.  My immediate thought when I saw that was:  No one used plastic garbage bags then.  Especially not clear plastic bags.

In Los Angeles, people used incinerators to burn garbage until they were banned in 1957 in an attempt to reduce smog.  (There's still an old one in my mom's backyard.)

I checked online and here's what I found:
  1. Plastic garbage bags weren't invented until 1950 (by a Canadian) and the first ones  were sold to businesses, not households.  The bags were green.
  2. The first green plastic garbage bags for the home were sold by Union Carbide - Glad Bags - in the late 1960s.  (The movie takes place in 1965.)
  3. Plastic bags weren't introduced to grocery stores until 1977!
I recall putting garbage into paper shopping bags until plastic bags were available.  And paper bags don't really hold  garbage well when they get wet.  

Here are some sources:
The familiar green plastic garbage bag (made from polyethylene) was invented by Harry Wasylyk in 1950.Harry Wasylyk was a Canadian inventor from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who together with Larry Hansen of Lindsay, Ontario, invented the disposable green polyethylene garbage bag. 
Garbage bags were first intended for commercial use rather than home use - the bags were first sold to the Winnipeg General Hospital. However, Hansen worked for the Union Carbide Company in Lindsay, who bought the invention from Wasylyk and Hansen. Union Carbide manufactured the first green garbage bags under the name Glad Garbage bags for home use in the late 1960s.

“PAPER OR PLASTIC” WARS BEGIN: The plastic grocery bag is introduced to the supermarket industry as an alternative to paper sacks.[iv] At this point, plastic produce bags had long overtaken paper bags in the produce aisle. The grocery sack market was later, in 1986, described as “paper’s last stronghold” by Mobil Chemical’s marketing manager. [v]

Film makers:  If you're doing a film that takes place before you were old enough to remember, but not so long ago that there are still people alive who do remember, show the geezers the film and let them spot the anachronisms.

With technology changing so much faster today, future film makers will have an even harder time.
Is it a biggie? No.  But for people my age,  it's like seeing a film that takes place in 2000 with people using iPhones.


  1. absolutely noticed it as well… mid 60's garbage bags were paper that you put in metal garbage can for collection. I thought it a stunning oversight.

  2. did anyone else think that Dr. King was shaving with a disposable razor ? the clear plastic bag was the really glaring 'oversight.'

  3. Anons, I think the anachronisms demonstrate how many things have become a part of our lives for so long, that many people never considered that they are relatively recent adoptions. I thought the shaving scene was interesting because it seemed like a really intimate peek at King, but I didn't notice the razor.

  4. This really lowered the impact of this movie for me. Compelling subject, of course. But when you are so historically inaccurate about the small things, it makes you second-guess how accurate you are about the big things. Sloppy at best, re the plastic bags and what else?? Bad boo-boo.

  5. HILARIOUS! No kidding, I'm watching Selma right now and I paused the movie at the garbage scene because I knew that wasn't right, either! Funny how those things jump out at those of us old enough to remember when these innovations were first introduced.

  6. I noticed this right away, and started searching the Internet to see when garbage bags were invented. Good catch!

  7. Agreed! No one used plastic garbage bags then. Big prop fail.

  8. Just saw something similar in the Hulu series 11.22.63. Without giving away the plot if you haven't read the book, one of the characters uses a kitchen trash bag to, well, throw away some rubbish.

    1. I just found this post because I searched for what kind of bags were used in the 60s after I saw that episode of 11.22.63. Funny how we notice things like that.

    2. Jim: Spot on. I saw that the other day as well. Great series. There are a few other prop fails in it as well, but you may be able to attribute it to how he got there (not giving away the plot).

  9. Hahaha...I also Googled this because of 11.22.63!
    God! We ARE freakin old eh?

  10. Same here, 11.22.63--even tho I'm not old enough to remember back that far I thought it was strange. Curious to know if anyone has found something like this in Mad Men series--I've seen the entire series twice through and don't think there was a single error like this

  11. That's how I found this page. We burned our paper bag full of garbage until the late 60's. I love finding production errors in film. Glad to see I'm not alone.


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