My post about the environmental impact of plastic bags attracted a fair comment about the impact of paper bags on the environment. It seems that many people are using paper bags in the belief that they are better for the natural environment than plastic bags.
Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily true - paper bags are just as bad as plastic bags when it comes to the environment. In fact, some say paper bags are worse than plastic bags.
Some Facts and Figures
Here are some facts and figures according to reusable bags, regarding paper bags vs plastic bags:
- In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone
- Paper bags generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags
- Paper bags use 4 times as much energy to construct compared to a plastic bag
- Paper bags use 84 times as much energy to recycle compared to a plastic bag
- Some studies have shown that paper bags generally don’t decompose any faster in landfills than plastic bags. This is apparently due to the lack of water, light and oxygen etc, in landfills.
- Paper bags use more space in landfills than plastic bags
So, according to these figures paper bags are much worse than plastic bags right? Sure does sound like it.
But then, you also need to take into account things such as size differences and usage patterns between the two bags. For example, paper grocery bags are usually larger than their plastic counter parts, so you need less of them. Also, there are different recycling rates between the two, which will affect the actual damage to the environment.
In 1990, Franklin and Associates completed a life-cycle energy analysis to consider all this and still concluded that the plastic bag was the better bag.
OK, so even though the plastic bag was the better bag, we all know how bad the plastic bag really is on the natural environment!
A Much Better Bag
So, the best thing to do is to avoid paper and plastic bags altogether. Instead, opt for a reusable bag made from a natural fiber.
Ideally, your reusable bag would be large enough to fit 5 times the groceries that a plastic bag would. Also, it would be so durable, that you can continue to reuse it for 2 - 3 years without needing to replace it.
Think of how many plastic or paper bags you’d be saving by doing that!