May 2019, by Julius Abendan
Paper or Plastic? 11 Advantages of Paper Bags
When you buy something at the store, you might be asked if you don’t mind having your purchase place in a paper bag. For most people, the choice hardly matters. They just want something they can place their items in.
But this little choice has a significant effect on the environment. For each plastic bag you use and throw in the bin afterwards, you are contributing to a growing landfill and ocean pollution crisis, where the vast majority of waste is composed of plastic, in particular, single-use plastic bags.
This is where paper bags come in, and we believe they are the better choice. We go over 11 reasons why.
1. Reduced Impact on the Environment
Compared to plastic bags, paper bags have a lower impact on the environment. Plastics are harder to recycle and take forever to decompose—up to a thousand years if left alone in garbage dumps and landfills.
And even then, plastic bags need to be exposed to the UV rays of sunlight to begin breaking down.
Think of it this way: a plastic bag you used for just a few minutes would most likely still be around long after you, your children, and your children’s children have passed away. You’re placing an unreasonable burden on future generations.
2. Paper is Biodegradable and Easy to Recycle
Compared to plastic, paper is a far easier and simpler material to recycle. A lot of this has to do with the fact that paper is naturally biodegradable, which means it will eventually decompose even when thrown in the bin.
And because we’ve gotten pretty good at recycling paper, such that we can produce new paper from purely recycled materials, using paper bags keeps waste out of landfills.
Moreover, plastic bags require more sophisticated recycling machines, which means they need to be segregated and collected separately.
3. Paper Bags Save Money
When buying something and choosing to have it placed in a plastic bag, stores will often ask you to pay for it. This might be due to a local mandate against the unnecessary use of plastic bags.
As more cities and towns push for paper bags, shoppers who still opt to use plastic bags for their purchases have to pay for it—usually for a few cents a bag. Sometimes, this is also a move on the part of a business wanting to move away from single-use plastic bags. And because paper bags are free, you actually save a little money if you refuse a plastic bag at the checkout counter.
4. Paper Production Generates Fewer Carbon Emissions
When comparing carbon emissions between the production of paper bags and plastic bags, plastic bags take the cake.
Experts believe that each year, up to 100 million barrels of oil are needed to make the world’s plastic bags. Everything from the raw materials (crude oil), production process, and shipping processes of plastic bags generate carbon.
In contrast, paper bag production is much simpler, requiring basic machinery and sustainable materials—wood from ‘tree farms’ or recycled paper. This results in lower carbon emissions.
5. Paper Contains Little to No Harmful Materials
The materials used to make plastic bags can also harm the environment. When plastic bags begin to break down, they release oil-based chemicals, which can seep into the soil and groundwater, contaminating both.
The problem is just as bad, if not worse, in our oceans. With the sheer amount of plastic floating in our waters today, toxic chemicals from plastic bags are affecting the health of marine life.
With paper bags, or anything made from paper for that matter, this is not an issue at all.
6. Paper Bags Aren’t Hazardous to Marine Life
Speaking of marine life, plastic bags have been known to end up in the stomachs of whales, turtles, dolphins, and even birds that live by the ocean. There have been many accounts of animals dying because of complications caused by plastic bag, either by ingestion or obstruction of the airways.
In contrast, paper bags quickly disintegrate when submerged in water. And even if an aquatic animal were to accidentally consume the remnants of a paper bag, the worst that could happen is for the animal to have a bit of indigestion.
7. Paper Bags Don’t Pose a Danger to Land Animals
The same thing goes with animals living near landfills and garbage dumps. Since plastic bags are so light and weightless, it’s easy for them to get blown off into the wilderness.
Many of these used bags often end up being eaten by local wildlife, obstructing their digestive systems, and causing them to literally starve to death.
8. It’s “Breathable”
When you’re doing your groceries, food items like produce and meats are best placed in a bag where they can “breathe.” This simply means air can circulate around these items, helping prevent the development of odours and spoiling of food.
Since paper bags are breathable, this also means there’s a lower chance of anyone (especially a child), to accidentally suffocate on them.
9. They are Sturdier than Ever
Durability is often the reason most consumers prefer plastic bags, but many paper bag manufacturers have gone to great lengths to change this, using better paper and adding rope handles for safety and convenience.
These days, paper bags can withstand higher pressure, heavier loads, and more frequent use. The usual box design even allows users to place more items inside, so you don’t need to carry multiple bags.
10. They’ve Become Fashionable
Popular clothing brands and stores have spent a good amount of time and effort designing attractive paper bags for their merchandise. Along with beautiful design, these paper bags are made with premium materials to improve their reusability. This has somehow associated these ‘branded’ paper bags with fashion, and even status.
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11. They can be Personalised
For businesses, paper bags are very easy to personalise, and this is where their marketing potential comes from. You can personalise a paper bag with your logo, a unique design, or your company’s branding (i.e. colours, theme, etc.). And because paper bags are relatively cheap, you’re getting good marketing and advertising value for money.
Who knew that the small decisions we make today could have a lasting effect in the future? Although plastic bags are convenient and available everywhere, try to think of the impact they have on the environment and why paper is the superior, more environment-friendly material.
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