Paper Bags or Plastic Bags?

Well, it is a very old question, whenever it comes to check – out after grocery shopping – plastic or paper bag? Well, it seems to be a very easy choice but there are a number of details and inputs hidden in both of them. From re-usability to endure the life cycle costs, there is a lot more, in both bags, that is, plastic and paper bags. Lets take a look :-



Well, we all know that paper comes from trees – lots of trees. The logging industry, generally influenced by companies like Kimberly – Clark and Weyerhaeuser are colossal, and the process of getting that paper bag to the grocery story is quite long, sleazy and imposes heavy fees from the planet. Firstly, the trees are found, marked and chopped in this process and often it involves clear cutting, resulting in long – term ecological damage and also massive habitat destruction.  Making a paper involves  a lot of things, do not forget about the energy inputs – fossil fuel, chemical and electrical based – used to ship the raw materials by transport,  turn paper into a bag, and then transport the final finished paper – bag across the world.



When you are done using your shopping paper bags, a couple of things may happen. If minimally inked, they could be composed, otherwise, they may be recycled in most of the mixed paper recycling schemes.
If you are going to compost them, bags will break down and will be converted to rich soil nutrient from paper over a period of a couple of months. Although if you just ”throw” them away then eventually they will break down of the period of many years.



Unlike the paper bags, plastic bags are  made from oil which is a non – renewable resource. The biggest input is in the creation process of plastic bag  is electricity which comes from the coal – burning power plants in most of the countries. The creation process of plastic bags needs enough juice in order to heat up the oil to 750 degrees Fahrenheit where it ill be separated into its different components and sculpted into polymers.



Well, plastic can be recycled like paper, but is not that easy. Recycling involves re – melting the bags and then re – casting them, although assembling a new plastic fro the recycled – plastic requires almost two – third of the energy used in the manufacturing of virgin plastic. Also, in the second time, the quality is not as good as before, the polymer chains break which leads to a lower quality of the product.
Often plastic has been down-cycled, means that the material loses its value in the recycling process and also it makes hard to make new plastics from the old plastic.



It is a mixed bag, bio-polymers like Polylactide  (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoate  (PHA) are bio-degradable completely, and are not even made from the petroleum products, often, they’re derived from food sources.  Today the primary feed stock for bio – plastics is corn which is rife with the conflicts of agro-political and harvested and grown sustainably.

Sometimes, marked ”bio-degradable” bags are not actually bio-degradable, they are recycled plastic bags, usually mixed with cornstarch.  The cornstarch  bio-degrades and then the plastic breaks into very little tiny pieces but actually, they don’t bio – degrade, only leaving polymer mess.

Hence it is less likely to be a long – term solution in the world of plastic because of these reasons and also because it competes with the food supply.  However, it is good to have an alternative but bio plastics are not ready  to save us from the plastic and paper debate.



Most of the people think that paper bags are more eco-friendly as compared to plastic bags because paper comes from the wood which is renewable and organic resource whereas plastic comes from gas or oil, which is obviously a non – renewable resource.  I have already told you about the process of plastic and paper bags but let me tell you more about it with the help of comparison between plastic and paper bags so that you can be clear about it.  In the process of manufacturing, they need 220 liters of water in order to produce one thousand plastic bags whereas  thirty eight hundred liters of water are needed in order to produce the same number of paper bags.  Also, in terms of greenhouse gases emitted and energy – used during the manufacturing, plastic bag comes out the best.

In order to replace  all of the plastic bags which is used in the European Union with the paper ones in a year. You will need to destroy two million of trees, additionally.  This is just the same as cutting down 110 km of forest.  If the wood is being used from the sustainable forest then you will need to use 156 billion of additional liters of water every year.  According to a study in 2005 by the international retail chain Carrefour group in which there was a comparison between paper and plastic bags.  The overall conclusion was that,  plastic bags are more environmentally friendly as compared to paper bags and also their advantages grew more when they are re-used.

But, you need to understand that both plastic and paper bags require lots of resources and energy and proper recycling needs due diligence from a private recycling company or municipal waste collector and consumer, so there’ re lot  lot of variables which can lead to low rates of recycling.

So, ultimately, neither plastic nor paper bags are the best choice and should think about an alternative.  Choosing reusable canvas bag is a better idea instead.  According to a report,  canvas bags are 39 times better than paper bags and 14 times better than plastic bags, assuming that reusable canvas bag gets a good workout and are used almost 500 times during their life cycle so good luck and happy shopping!



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