When faced with the option of paper or plastic, which do you choose? Hopefully, you hand over your own reusable bag. But if you’ve forgotten to bring it, which do you pick?
For the longest time, I thought paper was the better option. While both do a number on the environment, it turns out that paper does more damage.
Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is mostly natural gas.
Paper bags, on the other hand, are made out of trees – lots of them. They also require lots of resources to turn the wood into wood pulp and then paper.
Plasticbagrecycling.org reports that plastic bags produce less carbon dioxide than paper bags, use less water, and create less dominant waste.
While paper bags require more resources to make, they can be recycled into natural materials. And the American Forest and Paper Association reports that in 2007, 56 percent of paper used in the U.S. was recycled.
Polyethylene does not return to an organic state once recycled. Instead, those plastic bags can be melted and made into other products, like composite decking.
Many grocery stores now have bins out in front accepting plastic bags for recycling. According plasticbagrecycling.org, in 2006 812 million pounds of plastic film and bags were recycled. That’s a 24 percent increase from 2005. That number is based on a report by the American Chemistry Council.
If you are presented with the question paper or plastic, I suggest you say, “Neither,” and hand over your own re-usable bag. Some stores will give you up to 5 cents off your purchase per bag, while other stores will charge you for each of their plastic bags that you use.
If you’ve forgotten your bags, why not do without the bag for that trip? Or look into finding one of those reusable bags that can be folded up and attached to your purse or key chain?