Paper or plastic? How about neither? The fact is both paper and plastic shopping bags impact the environment considerably. By design, they are disposable items, and the volume at which they are produced and disposed of leads to resource depletion, industrial pollution and waste liabilities as they pile up in landfills and litter the land and waterways (especially in the case of plastic). It turns out neither paper nor plastic, despite advantages and disadvantages relative to each other, is a good choice for the environment. Paper is a renewable resource and biodegradable, but pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters of air and water. Plastic bags, when used in a ratio of 2:1 with paper, require less energy to produce and create fewer atmospheric emissions and waterborne wastes, but plastic is made from crude oil, a nonrenewable resource, and the EPA classifies the hazardous waste from plastics production among the worst in industry. Petroleum bags are also non-biodegradable.
Luckily we have choices beyond paper and plastic. Reusable shopping bags constructed of durable fabrics are popping up all over the place. Chances are they’re sold right inside the grocery store where you shop! A set of four can carry about as much as six paper bags or 12 plastic bags.
If just 5% of the population purchased a set of reusable bags, and used them exclusively, we could save 5.5 billion paper and plastic bags his year and in turn save 700,000 trees and 600,000 barrels of oil. That's a bag full of savings.
Take Action / Next Steps
Chances are you already have some canvas bags and backpacks that could be your shopping bags. If not, more and more stores and markets are selling them right by the register.
Keep a green gesture truly green by purchasing bags that are made from sustainable fibers. These include organic cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo and others. Read about eco-fibers here .