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Last week, I ran two posts about the merits of disposable plastic bags:

The one positive out of coronavirus: disposable plastic makes a comeback

Why tote bags are not necessarily better for our health or the environment

Many people think that a return to paper bags is better for the environment, however, few know just how polluting paper production is.

In some ways, paper is worse for the environment than disposable plastic.

HowStuffWorks has a great post, ‘Paper Versus Plastic: Environmental Disadvantages of Each’, an excerpt from which follows. Bold emphases are in the original; those in purple are mine:

  • Causes pollution: Paper production emits air pollution, specifically 70 percent more pollution than the production of plastic bags [source: Thompson]. According to certain studies, manufacturing paper emits 80 percent more greenhouse gases [source: Lilienfield]. And, consider that making paper uses trees that, instead, could be absorbing carbon dioxide. The paper bag making process also results in 50 times more water pollutants than making plastic bags [source: Thompson].
  • Consumes energy: Even though petroleum goes into making plastic, it turns out that making a paper bag consumes four times as much energy as making a plastic bag, meaning making paper consumes a good deal of fuel [source: reusablebags.com].
  • Consumes water: The production of paper bags uses three times the amount of water it takes to make plastic bags [source: Lilienfield].
  • Inefficient recycling: The process of recycling paper can be inefficient — often consuming more fuel than it would take to make a new bag [source: Milstein]. In addition, it takes about 91 percent more energy to recycle a pound of paper than a pound of plastic [source: reusablebags.com].
  • Produces waste: According to some measures, paper bags generate 80 percent more solid waste [source: Lilienfield].
  • Biodegrading difficulties: Surprisingly, the EPA has stated that in landfills, paper doesn’t degrade all that much faster than plastics [source: Lilienfield].

On the last point, ReuseThisBag — a pro-tote bag site — explains (emphases mine):

  • It doesn’t break down any faster than plastic in landfills. That’s because, while paper breaks down much faster under ideal conditions, landfills are not ideal conditions. The lack of light, air and oxygen means pretty much nothing decomposes, so paper and plastic are destined to spend equal amounts of time there.
  • Paper bags are bigger than plastic, which means they take up more space in landfills. They’re recycled at a higher rate, which mitigates that fact, but that still means they still have a greater per-bag impact on landfills.

Shipping paper is also more expensive:

  • Paper bags are very thick, so shipping them costs more fuel per bag.

Therefore, out of paper, tote or disposable plastic bags, the plastic bags seem to be the best option. Of course, we know the disadvantages of plastic, but, if we are responsible in disposing of them, there is no problem.

I have a collection of plastic bags, because at some point, post-coronavirus, they might be difficult to get in shops.

They have their purpose on this planet. I reuse mine for all sorts of things before discarding them.

In closing, last year, while I was out in the front garden, a dog walker with three canines in tow, asked me if I had any spare plastic bags. The dogs had eaten something they should not have, and she’d run out of waste bags.

I gave her three or four disposable plastic bags, which made the rest of her walk that much easier and our neighbourhood that much cleaner.

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