Plastic or paper: Which bag is greener? (Global)
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Paper bags remain popular in the US, but they fell out of use in UK supermarkets in the 1970s as plastic was seen as a more durable material.
But are paper bags more environmentally friendly than plastic ones?
In 2011 a research paper produced by the Northern Ireland Assembly said it "takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag."
Unlike plastic bags (which the report says are produced from the waste products of oil refining) paper requires forests to be cut down to produce the bags. The manufacturing process, according to the research, also produces a higher concentration of toxic chemicals compared with making single-use plastic bags.
Paper bags also weigh more than plastic; this means transportation requires more energy, adding to their carbon footprint, the study adds.
But even if a paper bag requires the fewest reuses there is a practical consideration: will it last long enough to survive at least three trips to the supermarket?
Paper bags are not as durable as bags for life, being more likely to split or tear, especially if they get wet.
In its conclusion, the Environment Agency says "it is unlikely the paper bag can be regularly reused the required number of times due to its low durability".
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