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Paper Bags Vs. Plastic Bags

Updated on December 20, 2013

Both plastic and paper bags are both widely in use today. Whilst supermarkets and convenience shops tend to hand out plastic carrier bags, paper sacks are widely used by pharmacies, or smaller independent shops. They tend to be seen as more ‘high-end’ packaging as well so are more likely to be used by expensive clothing or cosmetics brands. Each has their advantages and disadvantages and there has been some debate on their environmental impact, amongst other things, as we shall see:

Biodegradability: Plastic bags have a bad reputation in this regard. It can take literally centuries for one to dissolve completely after being put in a landfill site. In fact, some would claim nowadays that plastic does not biodegrade at all so it’s a matter of waiting for it to be destroyed by the sun’s UV rays – a process which could take anything up to 1000 years. Paper, on the other hand, decomposes in a relatively short space of time so from this viewpoint it is a more environmentally sound material.

Recyclability: However, there is an alternative to landfill – recycling – and in this regard plastic scores a little better as plastic bags can be recycled. Indeed, whilst paper is also of course recyclable it takes more energy and time to do this than with plastic. However, it should be borne in mind that some factories will not accept plastic bags for recycling because they can clog machines.

Durability: If you’re carrying heavy shopping around then you want the bags that you use to be able to hold a reasonable amount of items without breaking and spilling the contents all over the place. Contrary to belief, good quality paper bags tend to be stronger and thicker than plastic bags, which will stretch and tear more easily. They are also easier to double bag, but on the other hand they will break easily if they get wet, so you don’t want to be carrying them around in the rain.

Production Costs: Paper for bags actually tends to be more expensive to produce so the bags themselves will be slightly pricier. This is because the pulp used to produce them requires thousands of gallons of fresh water, the trees have to be harvested by the logging industry and the cutting and printing of the bags uses up a significant quantity of fossil fuels. Plastic is cheaper to produce and fewer natural resources are used in the process.

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