Paper Bag Vs. Plastic Bags: Which One is Best and Environmentally Friendly

When going shopping at the supermarket on weekdays, the cashier spouts at the customer, which bag they need- Paper or Plastic? In this case, for some people, this decision is entirely stressful. The reason is if you consider your convenience, then a plastic bag is more comfortable, and if you want to make your environment clean and green, then paper bags are the best option. 

On the other hand, after shopping, if the rain comes, then all your shopping will go in vain. In addition to that, plastic does not degrade over thousands of years in the landfill. So, it becomes challenging to think about paper or plastic and which is the right choice.  

Regards to this, environmental experts, numerous bag manufacturers, and various garbage specialists are wondering how to make the right decision about paper vs. plastic. Moreover, if you talk about fiction, countless experts and individuals believe that paper bags are highly environmentally friendly as compared to a plastic bag. And no doubt, this perception has a high percentage as the paper is a renewable resource that can quickly biodegrade and can be recyclable.

On the other hand, the fact is these plastic shopping bags are outperforming paper bags environmentally in terms of manufacturing, reuse, substantial waste volume, and generation. 

However, customer consciences are not the only thing that is creating a debate on plastic vs. paper. Instead, numerous grocery stores pay very less for these plastic bags as compared to the paper version. So, before deciding which bag is better for the atmosphere and the people, let’s have a look at some of the facts of both paper and plastic bags.

     1. While manufacturing, plastic bags are more environmentally friendly

 Life Cycle Assessments proved that making paper bags deliver a high impact on the environment as compared to plastic bags. According to the report of the Scottish Government, which was released in the year 2005, paper bags utilize four times more water and also invent three times extra greenhouse gases as compared to plastic bags.

 Both of these studies prove that plastic doesn’t decompose quickly but it delivers less impact on the overall climate. On the other hand, paper bags decompose easily without harming the environment.

     2. On recycling, both types of bags have an almost similar life span

 If we talk about the recycling pattern of paper bags, then they tend to have a higher recycling rate in comparison to plastic bags. So, overall you can say that paper is the better option.

 No matter what type of bags you are using, your main motive should be to reduce environmental impact. And to make this possible, you have to use them as many times as you can. But if you talk about paper bags, they can’t deliver long-lasting performance. 

     3. While reusing, plastic bags outperform paper bags

 In addition to that, plastic bags can be used as many times as you can because of its power.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT BASED ON EQUALIZED
CARRYING CAPACITY OF 1,000 PAPER BAGS 

Plastic bags

Paper bags with 30% recycled content 

 Total energy use in megajoules

 763

 2622

 Fossil fuel use in kilograms

14.9

 23.2

 Municipal solid waste in kilograms

7.0

33.9

Greenhouse gas emissions in CO2 in Equiv. tonnes

0.04

0.08

Freshwater usage in gallons

58

1004


   4. Paper delivers more waste

 This is a very significant and immediate impact of paper bags in the environment. This means while making paper; it generates lots of garbage, which is directly added to the waste stream. But if you see the importance and uses of paper in terms of environment, it is very beneficial as doesn’t produce harmful chemicals while burning.

 

 

              Paper bags

                Plastic Bags

Wood Fiber is the primary source in making paper bags that directly comes from trees in the form of cellulose. But, in the manufacturing of bags, Lignin is also used.

Plastic is produces via oil as the primary source with the help of polymer molecules called H2C.

Paper bags can be recycled easily and quickly as compared to plastic bags. 

On the other hand, plastic bags are very tough to recycle and while recycling, they produce very harmful gases. These gases are very dangerous to all living beings.

While manufacturing, paper consumes more water and energy both.

But, in plastic bags, less energy and water are utilised.

Paper bags can be easily decomposed and degrade easily as compared to plastic ones.

Moreover, everyone is aware that plastic bags are not biodegradable. This means they live for centuries producing negative impact on the environment.

Paper bags are inexpensive.

Plastic bags are very costly. This means on annual basis, it cost retailers around $4 billion per year.

There is no danger from paper bags as it will decompose easily and faster when they come in contact with air.

Bags that are made of plastic are very dangerous for marine life and wildlife both. And it is proved that plastic bags cause deaths of many animals and birds inclusive of marine animals.


So, after reading the above comparison about plastic vs. Paper, now the question arises, which is more environmentally friendly?

Well, for years, there has been a constant debate among experts, researchers, plastic companies, paper organizations that which one is better in all aspects. But if you talk about general belief, individuals think that paper is more environmentally friendly as it is a renewable source and can quickly degrade.

But, on the other hand, there is an argument that paper is not more sustainable as compared to plastic. The reason is the article comes from trees after cutting them, and it utilizes much energy and also emits a large quantity of greenhouse gases. Moreover, more and more trees are cut for making paper. 

In addition to that, if you watch the making and process of plastic, it delivers significant packaging and sustainability. In regards to this, if you see the stats, if 145 trucks are needed to manage plastic bags annually, paper bags need around 1,183 vehicles per year to manage waste. So, if you want to come to a particular conclusion, it is mandatory to see the overall impact on the whole world environment.

Yes, plastic bags indeed have a terrible reputation. Most of the nations governments, including India, have banned it, but the paper is also not behind.


Indicator of Environmental Impact

Plastic bag
HDPE lightweight*


Paper bag 

 Consumption of nonrenewable primary energy

1.0

1.1

 Consumption of water

1.0

4.0

 Climate change (emission of greenhouse gases)

1.0

3.3

 Acid rain (atmospheric acidification)

1.0

1.9

Air quality (ground-level ozone formation)

1.0

1.3

 Eutrophication of water bodies *

1.0

14.0

 Solid waste production

1.0

2.7

 Risk of litter

1.0

0.2

 So, after reading the above arguments on plastic vs. paper, we cannot come to one conclusion because both have advantages and disadvantages, which is offering an adverse impact on the overall environment. Moreover, if we consider any other option other than these, than the cloth bag is far perfect. 

If you want to deliver a positive impact on the atmosphere, then every single individual has to change his habits by using fewer bags. In this regard, the government can also impose a tax on all bags so that we can reuse existing bags while going out shopping.

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