The Green Answer to Paper versus Plastic Bags
Simple, everyday grocery bags have come to be at the forefront of environmental debates. Your grocery bagger’s paper or plastic question raises an environmental dilemma.
Paper bags are greener than plastic bags in that they can be reused, recycled, or composted. However, manufacturing paper bags — often from virgin wood — uses four times the energy it takes to make plastic bags. And, paper bags are thicker than fine plastic bags, so they cost the environment more to transport — more fuel and energy, and thus more emissions.
The average shopper use some 300 plastic bags from stores and supermarkets each year — many of which end up in landfill sites where they take hundreds of years to decompose. Even worse, the bags can escape the trash, adding to street litter and creating hazards for wildlife.
Some areas are so fed up with the indestructibility of these bags that they’ve either banned or taxed them. Since Ireland placed a tax on each plastic bag in 2002, for example, the number of bags used has dropped by 90 percent. In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban plastic shopping bags designed for single use only.
Your best strategy for green shopping is to take along your own canvas or nylon bags or some other sort of basket in which to carry your purchases. If you do end up with the occasional plastic bag, make sure that you reuse it for the next trip or for taking out the trash, or make sure that it gets recycled (many recycling programs accept plastic bags, as do many grocery stores).