Paper bags vs plastic: What’s really best for the environment?

Everyone is noticing how bad plastic is for the environment, but is the alternative we’re all leaning towards much better?

Paper Problems

Generally, the biggest environmental impact of all types of shopping bags is during the production process – not their use or discarded. Sometimes reusable and paper bags require more resources to produce than the lightweight plastic bags commonly found in supermarkets.

A 2008 study found paper bags take four times as much water to make than plastic. In addition to this, plastic bags are also much more likely to be re-used than paper, particularly as bin-liners.

A UK study found paper bags would have to be reused at least four times to compete with the efficiency offered by plastic bags.

The only real advantage of paper bags is that they degrade much more easily and there are more options for recycling.

What about reusables?

Much more goes into the production of a reusable bag, so if they’re not reused the environmental impacts are devastating. The UK study found a cotton bag would have to be used on average 173 times to compete with a plastic bag.

The problems with biodegradable bags

Biodegradable bags are usually made from a mix of plant and synthetic matter and as a result can release methane when sent to landfill. Whilst their ability to break down is a great way to tackle waste, Methane is about 21 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide which can have a huge environmental impact.

So what should I use?

Regardless of which you choose, the key is reuse. Most of the environmental impact comes from the production, so the more a bag can be used, the better.

Latest posts by Sam Roberts (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *