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Plastic Bag vs Paper Bag Facts – What is Best?
The growing concern over the waste of plastic and paper bags has left many people confused on what is the right thing to choose. Here are the facts.
The US uses 100 billion plastic bags per year according to the EPA, and less than 2% are recycled. Virgin resin to make money bags is cheaper than recycled resin, so it doesn’t cost much to recycle the bags. Most communities don’t accept bags in their recycling programs because they can clog the machines. The average household uses about 1000 plastic bags each year. Most are used at one time, but about 7% are also used to line waste cans, carry dog waste, etc.
Plastic bags do not decompose. The sun photodegrades the bags, meaning that over time, the sun breaks down the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces. This is not good as small particles can enter the food chain, especially when marine litter and are accidentally mistaken for food by wild life. In the water the bags look like jellyfish and they eat, causing tremors and shortness of breath. Millions of animals are killed each year by plastic bags. When an animal eats the plastic, it cannot eat it, so there are toxins in the plastic, which people can then ingest when they eat the animal.
There is a place 1000 miles off the coast of San Francisco called the Garbage Patch. It is about twice the size of Texas and can be as deep as 300 feet. It is almost all plastic, and it is held in what is called a gyre. In fact, water samples taken show six parts of plastic to the plankton part of food for sea life.
Plastic bag litter has been found on remote islands and even flown to Antarctica. The environmental hazards of plastic bags have led to them being banned or taxed in more than twenty countries. Bags clogging sewer lines were blamed for Bangladesh’s severe floods in 1988 and 1998 that led to the country’s first ban in 2002.
It takes oil to make plastic bags. China banned free plastic bags last summer and hopes to save 34 million barrels of oil each year. Ireland has a program called PlasTax which is credited with saving 400,000 barrels of oil.
Retailers switched to plastic bags in the late seventies because they were much cheaper than paper bags and took up less storage space. It costs most retailers a couple of pennies for a plastic bag, and about fifteen cents for a book.
Paper bags are not necessary in the environment. It takes 14 million trees to make the 10 billion paper bags used in the US. Also, it takes a lot more energy to produce a paper bag instead of a plastic bag. However, more communities accept paper bags for recycling, and 20% of paper bags are recycled. The average household uses 400 paper bags per year. Although paper bags do decompose, in landfills, they rarely do so because they lack the air and moisture they need to decompose.
One option that is making way in the US is the reusable bag. Reusable bags are only needed eleven times to make a positive environmental impact. A quality bag can save two thousand bags from the landfill. If you have trouble remembering your bag, find one that folds into a personal storage bag so you can put it in your purse or pocket.
As more and more people are discovering, when to ask paper or plastic? The answer is neither. Both cause great damage to the environment and use a lot of energy to produce. Consider the answer to this question: No. I brought my own bag.
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