Advantages of Paper Bags vs. Plastic Bags

Young woman arriving home groceries shopping smiling
A woman is carrying a paper grocery sack. (Image: jean-marie guyon/iStock/Getty Images)

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.

Recycling Options

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.

REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Comments
PARTNER & LICENSEE OF THE LIVESTRONG FOUNDATION

Copyright © 2018 Leaf Group Ltd. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of the LIVESTRONG.COM Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Copyright Policy. The material appearing on LIVESTRONG.COM is for educational use only. It should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. LIVESTRONG is a registered trademark of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The LIVESTRONG Foundation and LIVESTRONG.COM do not endorse any of the products or services that are advertised on the web site. Moreover, we do not select every advertiser or advertisement that appears on the web site-many of the advertisements are served by third party advertising companies.