Friday, February 05, 2010

Plastic vs Paper

When I think of it, if I have the choice between a 100% post-consumer recycled paper bag and a plastic bag, why would I ever choose the plastic bag? I have heard arguments that make it sound like each are equally bad, but if the paper bag is made of all recycled materials, isn't that inherently better? Ideally, I would always use my own reusable bags to take groceries or other items I have purchased, but if I absolutely must take a bag, why would I ever choose plastic that takes 450-1000 years to break down? Your thoughts?


Suze said...

We use those plastic bags to line the trash can in the bathroom...but most of the time I try and remember to take my own cloth bags to the store.

Scott said...

The issue is definitely more complicated than it sounds. For one thing, more energy is required, and more waste produced in the manufacturing of paper bags than in the manufacturing of plastic bags. For another thing, while paper is biodegradable, if it's buried in a landfill, it's no more degradable than plastic without air exposure. They take up about 5 times more space than plastic bags in landfills, and most often don't actually degrade.

Then again, there's the recycling issue you mention, along with the problem of plastic bags collecting in the oceans. So I can see both arguments.

When I forget my cloth bags (which is hopefully not too often), I generally ask for plastic because I can use it as a trash can liner (like Suze), and those I don't use are recyclable here in Madison. Paper bags are recyclable here, too... but don't work so well in trash cans.

Pam said...

Just at the moment I think things are simpler, I am wrong again. Oy. Waste is such an overwhelmingly huge problem. It troubles me.