Paper or Plastic? No Clear Winner

So I am the girl who tries really really hard to not forget her reusable bags but there are definitely times when I am checking out and DOH!! I forgot – so I of course do the second best option and ask for paper please.  As I walk out of the grocery store I find myself scoffing at the plastic bag shoppers…don’t they know better, don’t they care about the environment?? Well you can imagine my shock (and knock down the holier than thou ladder) when I got the most recent Green$ense newsletter.  The short little teaser in the email says “Trick question: paper or plastic?”  I of course had to click on it because what was tricky about that – paper of course. Right? Not so much.  According to the Green Daily Blog that Green$ense had quoted, making a plastic bag requires fewer natural resources and produces less pollution than making a paper bag. And because of our poor landfill design the five to 1,000 years that it takes to decompose a plastic bag might apply to the paper bags as well!

I began to do a little research so I could be better informed because choosing plastic over paper just didn’t seem right to me, but then again, I didn’t really know anything about the process that goes into making them, what happens to them when thrown away or what goes into recycling them. Reuseablebags.com says “research shows that paper in today’s landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic. In fact, nothing completely degrades in modern landfills because of the lack of water, light, oxygen and other important elements that are necessary for the degradation process to be completed. A paper bag takes up more space than a plastic bag in a landfill, but because paper is recycled at a higher rate, saving space in landfills is less of an issue.”

An article I found on blog.greenfeet.com writes about the pros and cons of both the plastic and paper bag. The process that goes into making each bag, recycling each bag, or the impact of having them go onto the landfills.  The paper bag takes more energy and uses more natural resources to make, but it also has more uses after you bring it home from the store.  You can use it for craft projects, use it in your gardening or shred it up and put it in your compost.  The plastic bag takes up less space in the landfills and takes less energy to make and to recycle.  But if it is not recycled it could potentially become litter or worse end up in the oceans, ponds and lakes and kill marine life…or could end up back in your home, if the fish didn’t die from eating it and is now your dinner.  Lovely.

The research is endless and the results are contradicting. From what I read I am not convinced that plastic is better than paper – by any means! It seems like you have to pick which is the lesser of the two evils from start to finish. The only thing that my findings did reaffirm is that the best option is to invest in good sturdy reusable bags…and then REMEMBER to bring them into the store.

Posted by Becca

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