Paper and Plastic Bags – Is There a Solution


Emily Thomas, Opinion Editor

Emily Thomas, Opinion Editor

“Instead of taking a paper or plastic bag at checkout, using reusable, cloth, bags effectively eliminates the need for either”

  Paper or plastic? We hear this phrase just about every time we go to a grocery store, and it becomes habit to pick one or the other and move on. We never really give it much thought. However, this simple choice has much greater effects than we may realize.

   Each year, roughly 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean, alone. To make matters worse, that is only about 10% of all plastic bags produced annually. Plastics still litter the sides of highways and other public places. Not only do plastic bags usually end up in the ocean, they also clog storm water drains, causing significantly worse flooding during heavy rains and storms. When flushed down storm drains, plastic bags still usually end up disrupting various ecosystems. Wildlife often mistakes plastics for food, and unfortunately die of its consumption. If plastic bags are having such a tremendous, negative effect, why are they still in circulation and usually the only option at most retail stores?

   Automatically assuming that paper alternatives are less harmful, simply because they are not plastic, many people will choose to go that route instead. However, paper isn’t significantly better in the long run. Compared to plastic bags, paper bags take just as much, if not more, energy to produce and recycle. Additionally, paper mills release tremendous amounts of waste and pollutants into their nearby water sources. This limits the amount of biodiversity in streams and surrounding habitats.

   If paper and plastic bags are both environmentally harmful options, what can really be done to confront this problem? The only realistic solution is to avoid them all together. Instead of taking a paper or plastic bag at checkout, using reusable, cloth, bags effectively eliminates the need for either.

   Of course, it is not always convenient to carry around reusable bags and sometimes we simply forget. In this case, taking a single use bag might be necessary. But, if we are aware of our environment and where our waste ends up, this allows us to make sensible decisions.

   For instance, in our coastal Florida community, avoiding plastic bags seems most rational. If we are careless of how we dispose of plastic bags, chances are they will not be recycled and could very well in up in the ocean. Paper bags would then be wisest, as they are biodegradable and won’t cause significant harm if left uncared for. However, if you are careful about how you discard plastic bags, you may be helping the environment. By ensuring that plastic bags are recycled properly, less energy is used during its recycling process as opposed to paper. Ultimately, it comes down to if and how you dispose of waste.

   In an age where convenience often trumps consciousness, it can be hard to make smart decisions, especially environmentally. However, being mindful of our habits and our environ-ment lets us make smarter decisions. Neither paper nor plastic bags are good for the environment, so avoiding both is favorable. Adopting reusable bags or carrying an individual item if a bag isn’t necessary will have positive results in the end.