Paper or plastic?

By | February 4, 2008

Plastic bags are a major cause for concern. Americans come home with approximately 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year! Link. US businesses like to use plastic because they are durable and cheap. But they are hated by municipalities around the nation because they clog drains and are filling landfills.

“Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade—breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.”

The chemicals that make up plastic take from 400 to 1,000 years to break down, and their constituent chemicals remain in the environment long after that. These plastic bags are made from crude oil, natural gas and other petrochemical derivatives. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are used to make the bags the U.S. consumes each year. Some countries are fighting back from this scourge using some innovative ways. For example, Ireland now adds a small tax to each plastic bag a consumer uses – causing a 94% drop in plastic bag consumption in one year alone! Link.

If you are think paper bags are a much better alternative to plastic ones, then you don’t know half the story! Check out some of these pros and cons. Link, Link.

If asked “paper or plastic,” what would your choice be?

14 thoughts on “Paper or plastic?

  1. murraydonna

    I agree. I have quite a few cloth and nylon bags that I take to the grocery store. I also have a nylon bag that rolls up to be the size of a tennis ball – I keep this in my purse and take it when I do any kind of shopping. It can easily hold clothes, books, cleaning supplies, etc.

    I think it’s a shame that America is only now starting to promote reusable shopping bags. I grew up in England and I remember my mother would always take her own shopping bags; they charged you for plastic bags and paid you to take your own. This was almost 20 years ago!

    – Donna

  2. Hampton

    If I had to choose one or the other, I would choose paper. Instead, I would possible bring my own bag for groceries. I have a lake near my house and when I ride by I always see an abundant amount of trash floating on the surface. I am not sure why people would want to do this, but I guess they have no common courtesy for the environment. They think it is not hurting them, but later it could come back to not only the animals and water, but themselves as well.

  3. Kristen

    I agree with the previous comments. If I had to choose paper or plastic, I would choose paper, because although it may be less convenient to carry, it is so much better for the environment than plastic bags. I think that it would be a great idea for stores to start charging for bags like they do in the UK because so many Americans are trying tosave money that they would be forced to bring their own reusable bags. I know that many stores such as Target now sell durable reusable bags in order to cut down on the waste. Although bringing your own bags to the store may be a little inconvenient, I think that it is a miniscule price to pay to have such a positive impact on the environment.

  4. gar

    I always choose paper just because the bags are bigger and hold more groceries but I really don’t think that plastic bags are as big of a problem as people say they are.

  5. Mattie

    It’s really up to the businesses, in this case, to make a difference. If grocery stores and other retail stores simply don’t offer paper or plastic then people would be required to bring their own bags that they could reuse. Everybody needs food and clothes so it’s not like the businesses would suffer. Just think of how many plastic or paper bags you receive weekly at store and you are just one customer. Not providing these bags at all would help the businesses because they would not have to pay to have them in supply and they would also be making a positive impact.

  6. Chelsea

    I didn’t realize how bad paper bags were as well as plastic. I do know in Europe when i lived there we always took plastic crates with us to the grocery and they did charge you for using bags. I think that it definitely a good place to start. If one place does this i think others will start to follow.

  7. Kathryn

    I have started requesting paper instead of plastic because I knew it was better for the environment, but I would have to agree with some of the other previous comments. I definitely will think twice before I go to the grocery store.. I’ll make sure to bring my own bags. I always knew plastic was bad for the environment, but I didn’t realize the actual facts until I read this article. I’m aware that some starts have a plastic bag recycle trashcan, but I definitely think that stores should no longer have plastic bags. I wish there was some way to implement change and make people either bring their own bag or only have paper.

  8. william sanders

    It is clear that both the production of paper and plastic bags are not beneficial to the environment. While paper degrades much faster, the energy required to produce paper bags and the pollution generated through this energy production could be equally or even more harmful to the environment. The solution here is obvious and has been before stated: reusable bags. The problem though lies not in finding a solution, but in convincing the general public to adapt such means of conservation. Most people don’t go to the grocery store and grapple over which bag type to use, they are generally more concerned with the high cost of the products they are buying, not what they carry them in. The key here is to educate the general public, people who know little or nothing of science, about the small ways in which they can do at least something to help relieve the strain we are placing on our natural resources.

  9. Mike McLaughlin

    I never get plastic bags anymore because of this. I wokred at a grocery store for a couple summers and hated bagging paper bags because they were big, bulky, and hard to manuvure. As a consumer however, its not a question of whether or not bagging at the store is comfortable; the question is which is less harmful to the environment..

  10. Logan

    Cloth all the way! Yes it will be hard to get people to start this new process, but it sound like Ireland found the solution. No one want to do any more work than they must, until it starts to cost them. The US should impose the same tax. Also, campaigns need to be started to make using cloth bags trendy! Drinking your Starbucks and toting a cloth shopping sack is all the rage right now.

  11. ccstout

    I agree with the comments above I have always chosen plastic because I believed it was better for the enviroment, I thought it saved trees. I will say reading the article changed my perspective on plastic bags, but what really changed my thoughts were seeing the animals eating plastic and that bird that was tangled up in a plastic bag. These images are what will make me start using paper bags instead of plastic.

  12. Laura

    This is a very important question that not many people think twice about answering, unless they are environmentally aware of the dangers of using plastic grocery bags. I agree with the FACT that it is better to use a bag that is re-usable, whether cloth, nylon, etc. Though many people don’t care about the animals that are harmed by the outcome of using plastic bags, no matter what it still affects our ecosystem as a whole.

    Laura L.

  13. Logan

    With both plastic and paper bags clearly being very harmful for the environment, I believe that non-disposable bags are the way to go. I believe that if grocery stores provided these multi use bags then consumers would be more likely to use than and the stores would probably end up saving money too.

  14. Scott

    I choose the plastic bags. I know they are terrible, but I do save them and take them back to the stores to be recycled. I do hope to soon invest in some cloth bags to take with me though.

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