Jan 5, 2010

Paper vs. Plastic

It is safe to say that most Americans who do not live in Amish country are aware that we waste entirely too many disposable grocery bags. We've heard the countless Public Service Announcements, we can no longer play ignorant. I try to make an effort to bring my own bag. Emphasis on try. The fact is, my day goes like this:

Put kids in the car.
Drop off older kids
Go to store/playgroup/gym (yeah right)/grocery store
Pick up kids
Unload car
Put away groceries

By the end of the rigmarole, it does not cross my mind to put the grocery bags back in the car. I am safe in my home. Don't make me go out there again! So in an effort to make sure I no longer shop empty handed, I have outsourced the job of returning the bags to the car to my two older children. Problem solved. Except, there will be times when I have to answer that dreaded question..."Paper or plastic?"

What is a pseudo-environmentalist to do? Some argue that paper is better than plastic...well, in some ways it is. But don't think you're doing the earth any favors by requesting paper. Apparently there is no way to please everyone on the matter. Environmentalists go back and forth on the issue arguing that one is still the lesser of two evils. Paper and Plastic are tied for last place.

"It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag...Paper sacks generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
Source: "Comparison of the Effects on the Environment of Polyethylene and Paper Carrier Bags," Federal Office of the Environment, August 1988...It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. But recycling rates of either type of disposable bag are extremely low, with only 10 to 15% of paper bags and 1 to 3% of plastic bags being recycled, according to the Wall Street Journal...A paper bags takes up more space than a plastic bag in a landfill, but because paper is recycled at a higher rate, saving space in landfills is less of an issue." Source

"Both paper bags and plastic bags destroy natural resources and ecosystem. Both contribute to green house gasses. However, plastic bags are more hazardous. When recycling or incinerating plastic, dioxins are produced and sent off to air. These dioxins are the ones responsible for ruining the ecosystem and the environment in general. Only one to three percent of all plastic bags are recycled. The rest are found in the streams, floating on the sea and flying around the streets." Source

The bottom line is, neither are the right choice to make. But in the event I find myself unarmed, I will choose the one I feel I am most likely to reuse responsibly. But in the meantime, I have few excuses, for my Chico bag is dangling from my key chain and it will hold far more than a plastic grocery bag can. I went to the Chico site to grab a link and I was excited to see their bags on sale! Get five Chico bags for $10!!! And if you're looking for something a bit more sporty, like a backpack or messenger bag that folds up into your glove compartment, go to http://www.chicobag.com/ and check out their new collection! No, I don't get paid to promote these products.

Creative ways to reuse paper bags:

What to do with your plastic bags:
Knit a tote bag (no, seriously)



  1. I might have to give that plastic bag sewing a try. I am really enjoying your blog.

  2. I should have put in a disclaimer though. You have to make sure you don't breath in the fumes. I've wanted to try it, but the directions I read said to do it in a well ventilated room. I saw a cool floor mat made from Walmart bags (yep)that looked swank.