Never has the issue of how we pack our groceries been such a hot topic, with supporters for plastic and paper pushing their side, in addition to this we now have many stores stocking canvas bags as the next solution to reducing our dependance on paper and plastic bags. So which is the best solution? I've been researching each to find the related pros and cons, and would love to hear your arguements in the comments section of what you use and why.
Having already previously touched on plastic bag reduction last month in the article "Would You Like a Bag?" but not really gone into much detail. Plastic has long been used in the UK, and is used by the majority of shopping outlets, big and small from cornershop to supermarket. Plastic grocery bags consume 40% less energy to produce, 80% less transport energy and generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags. However, plastic bags can take 1,000 years to decompose compared to paper bags which take about a month to decompose (not if they are landfilled). In addition as plastic bags degrade in landfill the bags can emit toxins to the soil. A fact from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that if every New York City resident used one less plastic bag a year, it would result in a saving of 2 250 tonnes of waste and $250 000 in disposal costs.
To combat the ill effects of plastic a sturdy, reusable bag can be obtained from many stores, including Tesco and needs only be used 11 times to have a lower environmental impact than using 11 disposable plastic bags. Tesco launched a scheme last year to reward UK shoppers who manage to work their way through 18 billion bags a year. A shopper gains a loyalty point for each, bag, box, wheelbarrow or other receptical that they bring with them to carry their goods home.
Co-op was the first supermarket in the UK to make use of biodegradable shopping bags to replace the plastic bags that they had previously used, these have the benefits of plastic bags without the environmental impact, however this does come at a cost to the organisation. On 1st May 2007, the town of Modbury became, what they believe the first town in Europe to be plastic bag free. All 43 local traders agreed that they would no longer offer plastic bags and instead only use 100% biodegradable corn-starch bags, recycled paper bags or reusable cotton or jute bags.
So what about paper bags, are they as friendly as they are made out to be, their popularity has fallen since the introduction of plastic bags in 1977. Paper bags are made from trees, which are a renewable resource, however they many not be sourced from sustainable forests. Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is made from crude oil and natural gas, nonrenewable resources. Paper bags now accounts for less than 20% of all bags used in USA. As stated before paper bags are alot heavier, 2000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds, 2000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds. Paper therefore requires more transport energy and more landfill space.
It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper, and in manufacture more than four times as much energy to produce a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag. The energy required to produce the bags (in British thermal units): Safeway plastic bags: 594 BTU; Safeway paper bags: 2511 BTU. Statistics show that in reality a higher proportion of paper bags are recycled than plastic. But 80% of paper bags were still sent to landfill, and to add to this current research demonstrates that paper in landfills does not biodegrade at a rate substaintially faster than plastic. In fact, nothing completely degrades in modern landfills due to the lack of water, light, oxygen, and other important elements that are necessary for the degradation process to be completed.
So what is the solution, to the question Paper or Plastic?, the real answer is neither. Reusable canvas totes seem to have been adopted by many environmentalists as the real solution to the problem, and not only are they environmentally friendly they are the latest fashion accessory adorned by celebrities. This has caused loads of stores online and offline to start selling the bags and prices can range from $3 - $24. So if you want to get canvas tote bags without the price tag, I will be posting an article on how to make your own, with a video on You Tube very soon. In addition I will be giving away a few freebies too.