For a long time, paper bags were considered a more environmental alternative. However, consider their whole life cycle and you find a different story.
We often think of paper bags as a better alternative for the environment, and no doubt, there are some benefits. They are biodegradable. They don’t threaten marine animals if they end up in our oceans. They are easier to recycle than plastic bags.
Still, overall, disposable paper bags are as questionable as disposable plastic bags when you look at the bigger picture. Take a look at paper bag manufacturing, usage, and even disposal problems. You will see why they are not a better choice.
Compared to plastic, making a paper bag:
- emits 51% more global warming gasses
- creates 50 times more water pollution
- uses 4 times more raw materials
- consumes 2 times more energy
Once used, paper bags are unlikely to be re-used. They tear easily and disintegrate when wet. So even if they are recycled, they cause emissions and waste while we truck them to a new processing center, reprocess them, and then truck the new ones back for another use.
There is another problem with paper bag recycling. Only about 80% percent of all paper bags end up in landfills. There, they often do not biodegrade for decades, or perhaps hundreds of years, because of a lack of oxygen. Bag for bag, they cost more to landfill than plastic bags because they take up much more space by weight and volume. Recent studies suggest we may consider landfill more like long term storage for paper than a mechanism for biodegrading.
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