Forum > Environment Awareness > Plastic or Paper?

Posted by Susan Sharma on September 21, 2007

 

Plastic or Paper? Neither

A landmark 1990 study by the research firm Franklin Associates—which factored in every step of the manufacturing, distribution and disposal stages of a grocery bag’s usable life- employed two critical measures in reaching their conclusion.

The first was the total energy consumed by a grocery bag. This included both the energy needed to manufacture it, called process energy, and the energy embodied within the physical materials used, called feedstock energy. The second measure used was the amount of pollutants and waste produced. The Franklin report concluded that two plastic bags consume 13 percent less total energy than one paper bag.

Additionally, the report found that two plastic bags produce a quarter of the solid waste, a fifteenth as much waterborne waste and half the atmospheric waste as one paper bag. Plastic is not biodegradable, it litters our waterways and coastal areas, and has been shown to choke the life out of unsuspecting wildlife.

A recent survey by the United Nations found that plastic in the world’s oceans is killing more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles each and every year. According to the California Coastal Commission, plastic bags are one of the 12 most commonly found items in coastal cleanups. Paper bags do not cause such after-the-fact problems, and are inherently easier to recycle.

Energy and waste issues aside, the manufacture of paper bags brings down some 14 million trees yearly to meet U.S. demand alone, while at the same time plastic bags use up some 12 million barrels of oil each year.

Consumers must “just say no” to both options and instead bring their own re-usable canvas bags, backpacks, crates or boxes to take away groceries. Another benefit of bringing your own, of course, is setting a good example so that other shoppers might do the same.

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