We all want to help the environment. Nobody wants to intentionally cause harm to Mother Nature or her inhabitants that share the world with us. However, we’ve also heard conflicting messages about the benefits of using paper vs. plastic, and vice versa. Most chain grocery stores use plastic bags, but if you ask, they will give you the paper instead. Is one choice really better than the other?
Consider the Life Cycle of Each
When we think about this debate, most of us tend to consider only how the bag will be used - generally, to carry groceries from the store and into the house. But, the reality is, we have to look at the entire life cycle of both plastic and paper bags to get an idea of which is better (or just less worse) than the other.
- Plastic – The downside to using plastic is that plastic is made from a non-renewable resource – oil. It also requires huge amounts of energy to be produced, which means burning coal (another non-renewable resource). All of this has a negative impact on the environment. The good news is, plastics can be recycled, however, when they are “down-cycled” the resulting product is not as high-quality as the original.
- Paper – Paper comes from a renewable resource – trees. However, harvesting these trees requires expending energy that ultimately harms the environment (using gas or electric loggers, etc). These production methods cause a buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, and in turn, there are fewer trees to help balance out the buildup. The good news is, some states are now enforcing that for every tree taken down, one must be planted (California is one such state). Also, paper can be recycled and used to create other products.
How to Help the Environment
Whether you choose paper or plastic, the environment is affected in some way. The best thing to do is to reuse the bags that you have for as long as you possibly can. Consider also taking fabric grocery bags to stores to eliminate the need for either paper or plastic. When it comes to helping the environment, a little bit goes a long way!
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