According to the Progressive Bag Alliance, five billion paper bags are used every year in the US compared to 92 billion plastic bags. Both paper and plastic bags have a heavy impact on the environment. Paper is more recyclable, but the paper industry is also one of the 10 most polluting industries according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Less Environmental Impact
Plastic bags have a bad reputation and with good reason. It takes centuries for one to dissolve after ending up in a landfill, while paper decomposes much more faster and easily. In fact, according to an article in Slate magazine, plastic bags do not biodegrade at all, so you would have to wait for UV rays to destroy it, which can take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years or more. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency points out that 12 million barrels of oil are used in the US alone to produce plastic bags.
Paper bags are made at least partially from recycled paper or fiber. Research from MSNBC shows that most paper bags contain at least 35 percent recycled material, but many companies use much more than that. Once discarded, they can also be recycled again, while plastic bags cannot be recycled or many factories don't accept them because they can clog machines and complicate the recycling process. You can even tear paper bags into small pieces and add them to your compost pile.
Marine Life Protection
According to the Conservation International Organization, plastic litter, which includes plastic bags, kills thousands of marine animals each year. The EnviroLiteracy website explains that plastic bags can block the entrance to the stomach and cause starvation in a number of marine animals, including sea turtles, minke whales and sea birds. Some animals confuse plastic bags with jellyfish or other food and actively seek them out even if they spot them from a distance.