In SA, ACT, NT and Tasmania, certain types of plastic carry bags have been banned. Not content with this, the ACT Greens party are now calling for a complete plastic bag ban. The reason for this is emergence of substitutes which are still polymer based.
The pros and cons of plastic bag ban legislation are too lengthy to mention. Some of the issues regarding bin liners, degradable and compostable bags, and carry bags alternatives are mentioned in previous posts.
I think that it is important to realise that realise that plastic bags were a environmental step forward from the days of widespread paper bags usage. Paper bags have much more detrimental environmental impact than their plastic equivalents.
In fact, due the low amount of energy required to produce them, some studies in the UK have shown that plastic bags are actually more environmentally friendly than their alternatives. The real problems are the incredibly selfish and thoughtless humans among us that discard these products as litter on our public lands.
Now this is a question that we get asked a lot. It is also a question for which there are no easy answers! There are pros and cons for each side, and the debate can be had for a long time. For now, I want to address some of the environmental impacts of both plastic and paper bags.
Environmentalists will often answer the question "Which is better, paper carry bags or plastic bags" with "neither".
But I believe that most research indicates that plastic bags have lesser impact on environment than its paper counter parts.
Here is one reason why:
Issue 1: Energy and natural resources used to manufacture plastic bags Vs paper bags. It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.
ENERGY TO PRODUCE BAG ORIGINALLY
(BTUs British Thermal Units)
Safeway Plastic Bags: 594 BTUs
Safeway Paper Bags: 2511 BTUs
(Source: 1989 Plastic Recycling Directory, Society of Plastics Industry.)
What does this mean? It means that Plastic bags take less energy to create, which is significant because so much of our energy comes from dirty sources like coal and petroleum.
Of course, most paper comes from tree pulp, so the impact of paper bag production on forests is enormous.
In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone.
Paper bag production delivers a global warming double-whammy.
Forests, which are major absorbers of greenhouse gases - have to be cut down. And then there is the subsequent manufacturing process of bags produces greenhouse gases.
Issue 2: Pollution
The majority of kraft paper is made by heating wood chips under pressure at high temperatures in a chemical solution. As evidenced by the unmistakable stench commonly associated with paper mills, the use of these toxic chemicals contributes to both air pollution, such as acid rain, and water pollution. Millions of gallons of these chemicals pour into our waterways each year; the toxicity of the chemicals is long-term and settles into the sediments, working its way through the food chain.
POLLUTANTS PAPER V.S. PLASTIC
Paper sacks generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
Source: "Comparison of the Effects on the Environment of Polyethylene and Paper Carrier Bags," Federal Office of the Environment, August 1988
According to a life cycle analysis by Franklin Associates Ltd, plastic bags create fewer airborne emissions and require less energy during the life cycle of both types of bags per 10,000 equivalent uses -- plastic creates 9.1 cubic pounds of solid waste vs. 45.8 cubic pounds for paper; plastic creates 17.9 pounds of atmospheric emissions vs. 64.2 pounds for paper; plastic creates 1.8 pounds of waterborne waste vs. 31.2 pounds for paper.
Issue 3: Recycling
It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. But recycling rates of either type of disposable bag are extremely low, with only 10 to 15% of paper bags and 1 to 3% of plastic bags being recycled, according to the Wall Street Journal.
ENERGY TO RECYCLE PACKAGE ONCE (BTUs)
Safeway Plastic Bags: 17 BTUs
Safeway Paper Bags: 1444 BTUs
Source: 1989 Plastic Recycling Directory, Society of Plastics Industry.
Although paper bags have a higher recycling rate than plastic, each new paper grocery bag you use is made from mostly virgin pulp for better strength and elasticity.
Issue 4: Transportation
Paper is an extremely dense material that is much heavier than plastic, and hence requires higher transport costs to move around.
Maxpak supply similar sizes of string handle paper bags, and plain plastic singlet bags.
An 11 kg carton holds 2000 plastic bags. A similar weight carton holds only 250 paper bags(this carton is double the volume) Our truck has a 10 tonne carrying capacity. This means it can carry around 900 cartons which is 1.8 million plastic bags or 225,000 paper bag. For every 1 truck load of plastic bags, you would need 8 truck loads to carry the same amount of paper bags! That is 8 times the amount of energy, fuel and carbon emmisions just for local transportation.
The most negative environmental impact that plastic bags represent is their persistence in the environment as litter. Emotive images of animals in distress and litter in our streets, parks and waterways deeply affect the public consciousness. This is a human behaviour issue I believe. They look terrible as litter - but bag's don't litter themselves - humans do. Paper bags are just as likely to become litter as plastic.
I really encourage you to do some research of your own - to verify my commentary, as well as to find a variety of views. You'll find a robust debate all over the internet. A google query "are paper bags better than plastic?" will reveal a plethora of information. I'll put a few links below for you to check out if you have time.
That is the question that has everyone running around, no longer knowing which side to take a stance on! 'Plastic bags' are the words that make most environmentalists gasp in horror but are plastic bags really that awful?
There was a time when the checkout girl/boy at the supermarket would ask, 'paper or plastic?' but now, that question isn't asked anymore, only a decade later. In fact, if people want a paper bag, they usually have to ask and pay for it!
It's not because store owners are assuming that plastic bags are more popular; it's because plastic bags are much cheaper to make, less harsh on the environment, reusable and have lower carbon footprints. It just makes sense!
This might sound a little far-fetched after hearing so many media advertisements and environmentalist claims of how bad plastic bags are. You might be wondering, how this could be? Keep reading and you'll see there's actually nothing strange about it!
The Controversy – Paper vs. Plastic
Paper VS Plastic
Green lobbyists and those who are conscious about the environment will be the first to say that plastic bags are out and paper bags are in but if you sit down and think about it, when was the last time you saved a paper bag? The answer is more likely than not, once or twice until you realised it wasn't worth the hassle.
That's not to say the thought of using paper bags seems noble since paper is recyclable and any opportunity to use the recycling bin does make you feel as though each item is a contribution towards a healthier universe; however, if you're recycling too many paper bags, you're actually cutting down more trees, using more energy and much, much more fossil fuel down than saving trees.
Before you disagree about how plastic bags are better than paper bags, think about this: Can you argue indisputable, cold, hard facts? Even though opinions run high when it comes to going green, facts don't have opinions, facts have facts!
Take a look at these facts:
Are theses facts grabbing your attention yet? If so, GREAT!
The facts listed above are concrete documentations that have been proven after many, many studies surrounding hot topic whether it's safer to use plastic bags or not. As the studies and research continues, the biggest factor that keeps popping up every single time shows evidence that paper bags are mostly used ONLY from the store to the house, whereas, plastic bags are used, reused and then reused some more!
Let's think about this realistically: If you're earth conscious and in the green zone, trying to save the rain forests, water, resources and water for all of those paper bags that are being thrown out by the millions every day is definitely not the ideal choice. Out of all the millions of tons of paper bags created every year, only 20% of these bags will ever be used more than once. Simply said, you might as well just cut down a whole tree and set it on the side of the road to wait for the recycling truck.
In early 2011, a report was release by the UK Environment Agency (EA) that has taken a long, hard look at the environmental effects of various types of bags. . Through intensive research, they've been able to prove that ordinary high-density polythene (HDPE) bags are a much greener choice since it takes less of one third of Co2 emissions than paper bags.
Overall, this is intensely interesting stuff! Do you want to hear something even more interesting? The EA has also provided verified facts that to even be able to balance out the amazing impact of a single lightweight plastic bag, eco-friendly people would have to use the same cotton, paper bag every working day for an entire year!
The point is, the words, 'paper bags' just sounds a lot greener and better than 'plastic bags,' when in reality, all of these facts prove otherwise.
This information may be enough to persuade you that plastic bags are more economical than paper bags but if you really to know the truth, this is only the beginning of understanding how plastic bags have been falsely demonised.
With some states legislating for a "plastic bag ban" - several national retailers have sought alternatives to the humble plastic singlet bag. Most alternatives revolve around bags manufactured from other materials. The below list gives an idea of the approximate costs associated with alternate materials in comparison to plastic singlet bags.
Maxpak can supply all of the alternatives mentioned above.
It would appear that some government agencies in the world are taking a good hard look at the environmental impacts of plastic bags, and are finding some surprising answers. A UK Environment Agency has discovered that they are not "eco villains" at all. In fact:
HDPE Plastic Bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the Co2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers.
Now this sort of commentary always makes me curious. How do they assess these sorts of figures? The article would go on to say:
The report set out to find out which of seven types of bags have the lowest environmental impact by assessing pollution caused by extraction of raw materials, production, transportation and disposal.
It found that an HDPE plastic bag would have a baseline global warming potential of 1.57 kg Co2 equivalent, falling to 1.4 kg Co2e if re-used once, the same as a paper bag used four times (1.38 kg Co2e).
A cotton bag would have to be re-used 171 times to emit a similar level, 1.57 kg Co2e.
Interesting? Yes. But the most interesting finding from the report would be it's conclusion:
The researchers concluded: "The HDPE bag had the lowest environmental impacts of the single use options in nine of the 10 impact categories. The bag performed well because it was the lightest single use bag considered."
Now I hate litter as much as the next person. But we really need to have a think about the what our objective should be when pursuing our nation's environmental policies. And for heaven's sake - lets please stop demonising the use of plastic bags! When they were first introduced - the plastic bag was the environmentally friendly answer to paper, because we didn't have to chop down any more trees!
Packaging, Environment and Legislation Observations from Maxpak
Environmental Packaging, Plastic Bags, Paper Bags, Shopping Bags, Cleaning Wipes & Products, Garbage Bags & Liners, Packaging & Cleaning Products