Re: Paper vs Plastic?

Kat Bennett (
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 15:02:44 -0700

This is in response to Judy Gregory's letter about an article touting
the value of plastic over paper grocery sacs:
In the endless debate over paper vs plastic grocery bags, let me add my
two or three cents, to make some sense of it. First of all, very little
degrades in a landfill, whether it be plastic or paper. Using the
degradability in a landfill issue is to argue a moot point.
Pete Pasterz is right. It takes MORE plastic bags to hold your
groceries. The paper grocery bag was originally called the "automatic" bag
because it stands up on its own, making it easy to stack boxes and cans. You
can carry more groceries in a paper bag and the bag remains upright. Plastic
bags collapse in on themselves, squishing everything inside.
Unfortunately, most canvas bags don't hold any more than plastic bags,
and don't protect groceries as well as paper, but they will outlast
thousands of paper and plastic bags, plus can be used for more than trips to
the grocery store. Your own reused bags is always the best choice.
For the article to make a blanket statement that neither type bag is
recycled after use is not accurate reporting. As with every other recyclable
commodity, it depends on where you are and what markets are available.
Something many times before the fibers become too small.
Plastic bags aren't recycled into plastic bags because the polymer
doesn't hold up to remelting and remanufacturing too well. They might be
recycled into plastic lumber or parking berms, but plastic grocery bags'
recycling career is (so far) a one-time trip.
I know organic gardeners who use paper bags (and newspaper) as a weed
barrier between garden rows. After a season in the garden, the bags
eventually degrade into the soil. This would be a good option if you live in
an area where brown bags aren't accepted for recycling. Paper bags can be
torn, soaked with water, and added to a worm bin.
As to whether paper grocery bags are recycled paper, you're doing the
right thing by looking for the recycled content designation on the bottom of
the bag. If your store is using virgin paper bags, let your voice be heard
to get the store to change its purchasing policies. By using a recycled
paper bag, you're supporting the market for recycled brown paper.
If you have to take a paper bag reuse it as many times as you can. Then
start gathering a collection of canvas and string bags. String bags are
great because they're compact, easily kept in a pocket or glove box.
It comes down to whether the product is made from a renewable resource,
and can be recycled more than once. Trees and other paper fibers are
renewable, oil and natural gas (from which we get most plastics) are not.

Kat Bennett
Longmont, CO

<<Dear members,

I read an article last week that disturbed me and was hoping I could get
some help. It was regarding the usage of paper or plastic bags at the
grocery store. Here's a quick summary of the article....

basically, the article said that both were bad because paper bags are made
from virgin materials (trees) and plastic is made from petroleum sources
(also virgin materials). Then it went on to say that neither were recycled
after use. And finally it said that if one had to choose, that plastic would
be better because even though the paper biodegrades in the landfill faster
the plastc, that the plastic takes up less landfill space.

This article has really disturbed me. I went and checked some paper bags I
had at home and found that Lucky bags show 50% post consumer content and
Kinko's shows 20% post consumer, while my Lucky plastic bag showed no
recycled content. I also know that plastic bags have been extremely
difficult torecycle with many people noticing the bags dropped off for
recycling only
end up in trash cans. I have been under the assumption that paper bags are
widely made from recycled content and that they are also accepted for
recycling by most curbside recycling programs and processors. I'd like to
think that I'm doing the right thing by choosing paper over plasic, but
would love to hear what you think.

Judi Gregory