Plastic Bag Facts Paper vs. Plastic Grocery Bags

Paper vs Plastic BagsAre plastic bags really worth banning? A large debate by environmentalist, lawmakers, store owners, and plastic bag manufactures has been growing over the past year. All though the debate and new laws primarily govern the use of plastic t-shirt grocery bags, not poly shipping and storage bags, some state and local municipalities have enacted new laws that restrict the use of these plastic grocery bags. To penalize retailers who do not adopt these new laws local and state governments are levying fines or taxes on store owners who continue to use t-shirt style plastic bags.

To this point most of the information about why to ban plastic bags has been produced by environmentalist that can lead to a misunderstanding by lawmakers and the public about the eco-friendly nature of plastic bags. Before jumping on the “ban plastic bags” bandwagon which is defined as “As more people come to believe in something, others also “hop on the bandwagon” regardless of the underlying evidence” – Wikipedia Let’s look at some facts from the other side of the debate. Here are 6 facts about plastic bags that many of us might not be known.

1. When producing plastic bags they create less greenhouse gases than in the production of both cotton and paper grocery bags. (1)
2. Plastic t-shirt bags use 70% less energy to manufactures than is used to make paper grocery bags. (2)
3. Water is a major component in just about every manufacturing process and freshwater is an every decreasing natural resource. Plastic bags use about 4% of the amount of water used to make paper bags. (3)
4. One of the largest issues sited by environmentalist is the amount of waste generated by plastic bags, and how they are filling much needed space in landfills. Plastic bags generate 80% less waste than paper bags. (4)
5. If examining the entire environmental impact of paper vs plastic bags one needs to consider the transportation cost of paper and plastic bags. Due to plastic bags weight and ability to be compactly packed you only need one tractor trailer truck to transport the same amount of paper pages which would use seven trucks. (5)
6. Plastic bags that are manufactured overseas increase our dependence on foreign oil. In contrast American made plastic 85% of the raw material used is from American natural gas supplies.

Unlike other types of plastic products such as plastic water bottles, plastic bags are not a single-use product. Think about all the additional uses for plastic t-shirt grocery bags such as lining trash cans, cleaning up behind your pet and disposing of yard waste, just to name a few.

As opposed to placing a ban on plastic bags, the solution could be as simple as developing a more comprehensive wide-scale recycling program. Or store-owners could offer incentives to shoppers by offering a discount for reusing their plastic bags from previous purchases. Let’s all think about both sides of the plastic bag debate before making a choice.

Sources:
(1) http://cascade.uoregon.edu/fall2012/expert/expert-article
(2) Franklin Associates, Ltd., Resource and Environmental Profile Analysis of. Polyethylene and Unbleached Paper Grocery Sacks
(3) Franklin Associates, Ltd., Resource and Environmental Profile Analysis of. Polyethylene and Unbleached Paper Grocery Sacks
(4) ABC News: Paper or Plastic? Just the Facts. 1/7/2006 & Boustead Consulting & Associates: “Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags—Recyclable Plastic; Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper,” 2007
(5) “RAN Encourages Plastic Bag Recycling; ” Nevada News – April 2008; Retail Association of Nevada; http://www.rannv.org/documents/8/April%202008.pdf & Boustead Consulting & Associates: “Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags—Recyclable Plastic; Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper,” 2007.
(6) Analysis by Chemical Market Associates, Inc.; February, 2011.

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