Paper or Plastic or Neither?

| 1/16/2009 2:08:45 PM

Plastic bagIn March 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to outright ban plastic bags from being distributed by larger retailers. But almost two years later, an SF Weekly reporter finds that the cut-and-dried argument used for so long—plastic bad, paper good—is largely disproved after a close look at the facts.

True, producing plastic bags takes millions of barrels of oil, but processing paper bags releases noxious chemicals and pollutes millions of gallons of water. In addition, transporting them to stores takes far more space and gasoline than their plastic cousins.

“Firstly," says the author, "biodegrading paper represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, in a properly run landfill, paper doesn't really biodegrade. In fact, nothing much really does.” Landfill trash is so tightly compacted that paper and even food waste remains mummified for decades, unable to break down.

As for the aesthetic argument, that the ban would eliminate unsightly and unsafe plastic litter, research shows that while overall litter has decreased, plastic bags’ share of that percentage of that number has actually increased since the ban.

So what should consumers do? As TreeHugger puts it, “Ultimately, neither paper nor plastic bags are the best choice; we think choosing reusable canvas bags instead is the way to go. From an energy standpoint, according to this Australian study, canvas bags are 14 times better than plastic bags and 39 times better than paper bags, assuming that canvas bags get a good workout and are used 500 times during their life cycle.”

Image courtesy of londonista_londonist, licensed under Creative Commons.

Ed Stahl
4/17/2010 8:11:00 AM

Last year I discovered a method better than plastic, paper or canvas bags. I get a cardboard box about 20 inches by 30 inches by 12 to 20 inches high. I bring the box into the market, put my selections into the box. Then at the checkout I take them out of the box and put them on the counter and put the box at the other end of the checkout point. After they are scanned either the clerk or I put them into the box. It's easy to lift the box from the cart to my car trunk. At home I pick up the box and carry it to my kitchen for unloading. Usually I can fit all my weekly purchases into the box, when I need more space, one or two canvas bags do the job. This system has saved me a lot of work and works fine for my wife and I. A larger family might need two boxes, but the box is much easier to handle than five or six bags.

Pat from 4corners
2/22/2009 11:14:06 AM

I have taken to buying re-useable bags as souviners when I travel. EG, I have a bunch of bags from my trip to Portland. Good advertising, good conversation starters and good karma.

2/16/2009 5:43:22 PM

World Wildlife Federation will send you two very nice reusable bags for a $16 donation. You help the environment twice that way.

Facebook Instagram Twitter