Saturday, December 02, 2006

Paper or plastic?

Shopping today at a Tops Store, now holding going out of business sales at various locations, I had with me my cloth shopping bags. So when the clerk began to bag up my groceries without asking, "paper or plastic?" -- I stopped her by saying -- "I brought my own bags, I'm trying to save the planet."

She gave me a disgusted look and said, "Lots of luck," then turned her back on me and swaggered away like I was some kind of nut.

Fact is, I have heaps of blue plastic bags at home, waiting to do duty as can/glss/plastics recycling containers. I have another huge sack full of non-blue bags that I resist throwing into the regular trash. Then I have a small stack of paper bags I use for paper recycling.

Which really is better, plastic or paper? Depends upon whether the study is done by proponents of plastic or paper industries. Recycling web sites give you the statistics and facts. Turns out it is a toss up. The best bags remain reusable string or cloth bags, like the one pictured above. (It's available here.)

Here are some interesting facts from the New England EPA:

* Plastic bags were first introduced in 1977 and now account for four out of every five bags handed out at grocery stores.

* Paper sacks generate 70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.

* Paper bags are made from trees, which are a renewable resource. Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is made from crude oil and natural gas, nonrenewable resources.

* 2000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds, 2000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds. The latter takes up a lot more landfill space.

* It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag. Energy to produce the bags (in British thermal units): Safeway plastic bags: 594 BTU; Safeway paper bags: 2511 BTU.

* Paper is accepted in most recycling programs while the recycling rate for plastic bags is very low. Research from 2000 shows 20 percent of paper bags were recycled, while one percent of plastic bags were recycled.

* Current research demonstrates that paper in today's landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic does. 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.

* Incineration can decrease the quantity of plastic and paper bags. However, incineration causes air pollution and creates ash which has to be landfilled.

1 comment:

microdot said...

The big stores have to realize that it is in their best interests to stop giving away free bags. The facts have to be publicized! Even WalMart is beginning to acknowlege the fact that they have to appear to be environmentally friendly for their image.
At first, a lot of customers complain, but in a short time, they will accept it. Just 4 years ago, the concept of "Bring your own bag" was fought by the stores and the public in France. Now, it's the policy. If you need a bag, the store will sell you a sturdy reuusable sack at a very cheap price.
Of course, much of France only recently was inttroduced to the world of shopping centers and mega's only been a short time since everyone was carrying a cloth or straw sack and shopping for food everyday in little markets.