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WHAT'S BEST FOR ME, PAPER OR PLASTIC BAGS? 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency*

  • Paper manufacturing facilitates smoke stacks, logging trucks and clear cut forests.
  • It takes 13 to 17 trees to make one ton of paper grocery bags. In 1997, it was reported that 955,000 tons of paper bags were used in the United States (that's about 13 to 17 million trees).
  • It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.
  • It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.
  • Paper sacks generate 70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
  • Plastic grocery bags generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags.
  • 2000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds, 2000 paper grocery bags weigh 280 pounds. Paper bags require significantly more landfill space.
  • Contrary to popular belief, current research demonstrates that paper does not degrade in today's landfills. To be fair, almost any type of waste does not degrade in a landfill.
  • Landfills were historically designed to hold things, not degrade them.

USA TODAY reported**

  • Four times as much energy is required to produce paper bags and 85 times as much energy is needed to recycle them.
  • Paper takes up nine times as much space in landfills.

The New York Times stated***

  • The paper industry emits the fourth-highest level of carbon dioxide. Only the chemical, petroleum, coal products and metal industries produce more than paper.

But:

  • Paper bags are easily recyclable with curb-side programs readily in place. About 52% of all paper and paperboard products in MSW (municipal solid waste) were recovered in 2006, about three times the percentage recovered in 1960.
  • Recycling rates for 2007 were determined to be about 88% for newspapers, 72% for corrugated boxes, 66% for office paper, 41% for magazines and 19% for telephone directories.
  • Only about 2 to 3% of all plastic bags are recovered at present mostly because of the lack of proper collection methods and infrastructure, and confusion about what plastics can be recycled. For these reasons, most municipalities usually only offer to recycle plastics designated with the recycling number symbols of (1) and (2) and do not accept plastic bags. Collection locations for plastic bags are now being offered at more and more high traffic retail locations for the purpose of recycling.
  • Paper bags are available with high percentages of post consumer recycled (PCR) material content up to and including 100%.

And What About Bioplastics?

  • The majority of bioplastics (plastic products derived from renewable raw materials such as starch from corn, potato, tapioca, or other plants and vegetables, combined with biodegradable polymers) specifically require a commercial composting facility to decompose. These products are also known as PLA standing for polylactic acid. They are not able to compost or biodegrade in a landfill or by home composting.
  • There are only about 120 commercial composting facilities in the US. Of these, only an estimated 28 sites accept PLA products. If an area doesn't have one of this type or cannot get the PLA products to one of these, the PLA product either goes to the landfill or many times is unknowingly combined with traditional plastics, which as you will read, is not good.
  • Bioplastics cannot be recycled. Bioplastics cannot be introduced into the traditional plastic recycling stream (mostly plastic symbols "1" and "2") because the PLA material "contaminates" this type of plastic and thus prevents it from being recycled. Most people cannot tell the difference and do so without any knowledge of the consequences.
  • There is genuine and documented concern about the amount of upfront energy and water used to produce many types of bioplastics. Also, there is an impact on rising food costs because of the re-allocation and demand to convert these biomass products into fuel and bioplastics. In many areas of the world, much of the forested acreage is being plowed down to make way for various crops of this type.
  • Many bioplastics do not degrade totally into organic matter and in these instances, some heavy metals residue will remain in the compost which can enter the food supply.

Traditional Plastics With Additives

Plastic bags are also available with various biodegradable additives.  These additives can make plastic bags biodegrade in landfills, when exposed to sunlight or if placed in the proper type of composting facility.  This type of plastic bag can also be partially made with a recycled plastic material content reducing the need for new virgin material.

Sources:

* www.epa.gov/region1/communities/shopbags.html
** USA Today, Editorial, April 2, 2007
*** The New York Times, Editorial, October 5, 2006

 

So what is the best product for me?

The answer is it "depends". This is a complex issue without clear cut answers at this time. The truth is paper is not necessarily as good as everybody thinks and plastic might not be as bad as everybody thinks. To truly be green, we feel the adage of "Reduce, Reuse and Recycle" is still the best policy. The ideal choice is a product utilizing post consumer recycled materials, produced in clean production facilities that also satisfies biodegradable and recycling issues.

 

Get the facts before you decide and base your decision on your own local environmental and recycling programs.

Natrual Kraft Paper Shoppers

Call Morgan Chaney for more information on currently available "earth" packaging options in paper or plastic bags.