With the current war on plastic and increasing bans on plastic bags worldwide, consumers are quick to opt for paper bags simply because they are touted as the environmentally friendly choice. The strong bias against plastic is mainly attributed to how plastics are often painted as the villain. In this scenario however, are paper bags really the heroes?
To better evaluate our options, let’s take a deeper look at the environmental costs each one demands.
If we take into account the environmental costs plus the entire lifecycle of each type of bag, no one really comes out as the clear winner.
Admittedly, plastic bags are less resource-intensive to produce but the real problem lies in their capacity to disrupt the environment.
Here are just a few of the very disturbing effects of plastic:
- It is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean.
- It has a big impact on marine life both onshore and offshore resulting in deaths and injuries.
- Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, and more than half of those end up on our dinner plates.
The reusable bag beats both plastic and paper
Since neither paper or plastic is a good choice for the environment, we’re left with only one option – the reusable bag.
However, choosing the type of reusable bag isn’t as straightforward as you would expect. If you buy a reusable bag and end up using it only once, then it becomes no better than a plastic bag. In fact, if you choose a cotton bag, you would need to have used it 131 times for it to have a lower global warming impact than single-use plastic bags.
So what’s the best solution?
Use what you have. Whatever material it is in, avoiding buying anything new is always your best option.
- Look for bags made out of repurposed material – sacks, old clothes, sheets, etc.
- Choose bags made from recyclable materials – yes, even those made of recycled plastics will do, specifically recycled PET plastic.
- And no matter what happens, use it as many times possible.
(1) https://assignmentbro.com/blog/plastic-pollution-facts-and-statistics (2) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-waste-microplastics/