With environmental consciousness among young people on the rise, it sounds ridiculous to suggest that plastic, a known pollutant in oceans and other ecosystems, may be better for the environment. Many instead opt for the seemingly sustainable paper bag, the heralded solution to mitigating plastic waste.
However, with all factors of production, manufacturing and use taken into account, there is scientific support suggesting plastic is better for the environment than paper.
Paper, the supposed king of biodegradability and sustainability, requires water, energy and trees to turn wood pulp into the brown bag you see in stores. And when all taken into consideration, paper uses more than 125 times the water that a recyclable plastic bag consumes, according to the American Chemistry Council. Not only that, but the paper bag uses four times as much electricity and produces 20 percent more CO2 than plastic, in addition to destroying carbon-consuming trees.
This is counter-intuitive to the narrative that slanders plastic and supports paper. This is true to some extent, since plastic is at an all time high in the oceans and other aquatic ecosystems and is stifling wildlife. According to National Geographic, the abuse of plastic leads to more than 8 million tons of plastic in the ocean, which chokes marine life and leeches petrochemicals into the water we ultimately consume in one way or another.
But this much pollution comes from plastic being improperly disposed of. If a majority of plastic bags are recycled, there would be no need to produce more plastic, nor their paper alternative.
So the next time you’re given the choice of using a plastic or paper bag at a grocery store, opt for plastic and recycle it properly. Bag the Bag at UGA offers plastic bag drop off sites around campus where students can properly dispose of their plastic bags. Of course, it would be ultimately preferable if neither plastic nor paper was used, and instead a reusable bag could be used for life. But when given the choice, the plastic bags lifecycle can be the consumer’s solution to lowering their environmental footprint.
With systematic dismantling of environmental protection, the consumer now more than ever has more responsibility in regulating their unsustainable practices. By educating yourself on the true wastefulness of paper bags and subsequent products, you can make better choices as you consume throughout your life, and do the environmental a little bit of good.