Last month, we discussed a debate that's raging in Russia over whether it's better to ban paper bags in favor of paper bags or continue using plastic. The story got me to thinking about which actually is the most harmful to the environment, and the results really surprised me.
A professor at the University of Oregon, chemist David Tyler extensively studied the use of paper bags, plastic bags and cloth bags, evaluating them from every aspect to disposal. His research examined the environmental impact of all three types of bags. Here are some of the things that he found:
- In terms of carbon footprint or the impact of manufacturing the bags, plastic actually beat out both paper and cloth. The paper bags may not be surprising, but the fact that plastic, which is made from chemicals, had less of an impact than cotton bags astounded me. It turns out that the pesticides used on the cotton plants from which many bags are produced are the problem. The moral of the story is that going organic is the best way to ensure that your reusable cloth bag truly is the best choice for the Earth.
- When it comes to disposal, plastic bags break down the slowest when they reach landfills. Paper breaks down the fastest, while natural cotton fibers fall somewhere in between.
- If you're taking conservation into account, cloth bags win every time. Cotton is a renewable resource, as the plants quickly grow for harvesting each year. Although trees can be regrown, the paper pulp used to create paper is typically not viewed as a renewable product because of the time that it takes for a tree to fully mature. Plastic bags made from petrochemicals are clearly not renewable.
What do you think about these facts? Will it change how you carry your groceries and shopping? Let us know in the "Comments" section.