Paper or Plastic?

Only Footprints: Bringing you what you need to know about going green and making less of a harmful impact on the environment.  

By: Collin Dieffenbach

Every visit to the grocery store ends with same well-known phrase: “Paper or plastic?” Getting plastic bags may seem like the easiest choice, due to their flexibility and convenient handles. However, plastic bags cause lots of damage, long after holding your bread and eggs. Paper bags are also destructive to our world. So, which should you opt for?

The amount of plastic bags used in America is quite staggering. Every year in the United States, 380 billion plastic bags are used, averaging more than 1,200 bags per citizen. Of those 380 billion, about 100 billion are used for shopping. However, of those plastic bags used, only about 1 percent are recycled. Plastic bags have a ton of uses, so you don’t need to throw them out once they get home from the grocery store. You can use them for cleaning up after your dog, for package filling, for small trashcan bags.  If you don’t want to put them to good use at home, then you can return them to many grocery stores for recycling.  Unfortunately, the majority of shoppers don’t. Those bags just end up being thrown away. And because they are made of petroleum, they are not biodegradable.

The bags may be complimentary at the grocery store; however, they use many valuable resources in their creation. To make the plastic bags that shoppers use to carry their groceries, 12 billion barrels of oil have to be utilized. Besides using nonrenewable resources in the creation process, plastic bags pose a huge threat to environments, especially oceans. For example, a floating plastic bag looks very similar to a jelly fish, the sea turtle’s usual prey. This confusion is an easy mistake for a sea turtle to make. If a sea turtle does make the mistake of eating a plastic bag, their digestive system will be clogged, leading to an eventual death. More generally speaking, plastic bags are infamously good at trapping organisms is the marine ecosystem. Plastic bags harm hundreds of species of ocean life.

Paper bags are not much better. If you thought the amount of plastic bags used was unbelievable, you should sit down before you find out about the paper bag waste. Americans use over 10 billion paper bags each year. In terms of forests and ecosystems, that means 14 billion trees are cut down. Making paper bags involves a lot of water, along with a bunch of chemicals. These chemicals can lead to acid rain and water pollution when the bags are thrown away.

The best answer to the question of “paper or plastic” is saying, “Neither. I brought my own.” Using reusable bags that you can buy at cash registers of most grocery stores makes for sense. These bags will last longer, be stronger, and have less impact on the environment. So, next time you hear the question, you know have come prepared.



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