Paper, or Plastic? Or Neither?

By Adam Eisman – Contributing Writer
Posted on Sunday 3rd May 2009

By now, many eco-minded folks have decided to move on from the age-old “Paper or Plastic?” question, and trump that with their own reusable bag. However, there will be times when one is forced to face down the unfortunate options on hand at the end or cash register 7. In those instances, there are some things to consider before making a choice.

Plastic seems like it is obviously the wrong choice; however it is not that straight forward. Despite the fact that some cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and some nations, like China, Italy, Australia and Ireland, have either banned them outright, or attached an extra tax or fee for the bags, there are some respects in which the plastic may be the safer option.

Paper bags actually require more energy for production than plastic ones, and that’s without including the massive amounts of water necessary, as well as trees. This does not mean that paper is altogether no good though, as only the plastic bags consumed in the United States require 12 million barrels of oil a year. These bags also act as hazards for marine life if they manage to float away into a large body of water.

It is always best to bring your own reusable bag to the market, and you can see a collection of durable grocery bags at . But for those times when you can’t, here are some things to think about.

If the paper bag option is made from timber, and not post-consumer recycled fiber, and there will be a seal to prove that, than go with plastic. You are also more likely to reuse the plastic bag, perhaps as a garbage bag at home. And with a second use, you’re technically using a product made of 50% recycled materials. Feel free to go with paper when the bag is marked with a post-consumer recycled fiber seal, or if you happen to live near a large body of water where the bag could get lose and cause damage.

As always, the best advice one can get on this issue is Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

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