Paper or Plastic?

I’m probably the last person to look this up but I’ve often wondered what the best answer to “Paper or Plastic?” really is.  The best answer ofcourse is neither.  I should bring my own bags, but I rarely preform ideally so that aside what’s the best?

It seems like paper would be more environmentally friendly because its renewable and degrades much faster.  Also its brown and reminds you of nature, so that has to be better environmentally right? Plastic bags use up a lot of oil, which we know is not nonrenewable.  But then how much oil is used to make paper bags?  Cutting down all those trees, shipping them, printing, gluing, etc.  The more extensive manufacturing process must take a considerable amount of oil right?

This article gives some quick facts on the costs of each:

To make all the bags we use each year, it takes 14 million trees for paper and 12 million barrels of oil for plastic. The production of paper bags creates 70 percent more air pollution than plastic, but plastic bags create four times the solid waste — enough to fill the Empire State Building two and a half times. And they can last up to a thousand years.

Another great article suggests further proves that there is no consensus on the issue:

Both paper and plastic bags consume large amounts of natural resources and the majority will eventually end up in the landfill. Both bags can be recycled to some extent and can be utilized around the house. I’ve read several studies comparing the two choices and none of them agree.

Drats!  I hate issues with no clear answer.  The first article suggests that there are bio-degradable plastic bags that take only a few weeks to break down.  That would be the ideal solution, but they’re rarely a choice.

For now I think I’m going to go with plastic on this one but with the intent to save the bags and recycle them.  The plastic uses less resources and polutes less.  Recycling them should reduce their significant impact which is in all the garbage they produce.  I’m also going to continue to not take a bag when one is not required.  Too often I see people check out with one or two small items and walk off with them in a bag.  If you don’t need the bag, don’t use it.

Update: My friend Natalie recently shared this clever video promoting careful use of your plastic bags.

  1. Eric said:

    Its good that you’re researching the issue, but I’m not sure how you reached the conclusion that plastic is better than paper OR reusable bags. Or did I misinterpret your writings? Why don’t you try some reusable bags? You may have them around the house already and you’ll save money while helping the environment. Be the first one on your block to re-use.


  2. Eric, that’s a great point.

    Currently my excuse is that life is very un-routine and I usually do my grocery shopping on a whim while out doing something else already. Still, I should keep a few bags in my trunk in the event that I do go shopping. That would be the ideal.

    But, its nice to know, assuming you don’t have a bag with, which type to choose.

  3. Eric said:

    Hmmmmm. I don’t know. Sounds like an excuse to me. Oh. You said it was an excuse.

    But seriously. There are lots of little bags that you can keep in you backpack, briefcase, coat pocket, glove box, where ever. I personally like the Chico bag ( And I don’t get paid by them either. They’re just good little bags. Give em a shot.

  4. Thank you very much for sharing this great article. I am happy to read this post and come to know Plastic bags or paper. And I am agree with your view that Plastic bag pollution is very deadly and we should try to use paper bags it will be really helpful for environment protection.

  5. Eric said:

    CDM. I think you need to do some more research. You’re on the right path in researching plastic and paper bags, but paper bags are in fact worse for the environment than are plastic bags. I won’t go into too much detail, but the pollution generated from paper bag production and transport is many times greater than that of plastic bags. The point really is that a reusable bag is the best choice. Pick any style of bag you like. Even your good old backpack is perfect. Just keep reusing it. Thanks.

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