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Which is better… Paper or Plastic?

November 18th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Thanks to Earth911 for a great article. Excerpt is here:

Let’s admit it, if it came down to choosing paper versus plastic bags at the checkout line, most people would choose paper. After all, they’re made from a renewable resource and are typically pretty easy to recycle. But when you consider the overall life cycle impact of paper bags over plastic, paper doesn’t look quite as green:

Paper or Plastic, maybe I'll reuse...

Paper or Plastic, maybe I'll reuse...

  • Each year, Americans use about 10 billion paper bags, resulting in the cutting down of 14 million trees.
  • Using paper bags doubles the amount of CO2 produced versus using plastic bags.
  • Plastic grocery bags require 40-70 percent less energy to manufacture than paper bags.
  • It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.
  • In the U.S. nearly 80 percent of polyethylene (the plastic used for bags) is produced from natural gas. This includes feedstock, process and transportation energy.

According to Keith Christman, senior director of market advocacy for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), plastic bags may actually be the better choice.

But why do bags have such a lower environmental footprint in manufacturing? According to Christman, one of the factors that accounts for this is the difference in weight between a typical paper and plastic bag, with paper bags weighing 10 times as much as their plastic counterparts on average.

“That goes along with the fundamental law of reducing – using much less material in the first place,” he said.

Full and original Earth911 article

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