In terms of what to choose for our shopping bags, most people face perhaps three clear options: paper bags, plastic bags or a re-usable ‘bag for life’. Paper bags originated back in 1883, and they are produced by trees. So, for those looking to choose paper bags to carry their shopping in, just what are the various merits and demerits?
1. First of all, on the plus side, in terms of recycling, the figures for plastic bag recycling are very impressive, and as of 2007, stood at a record level of 56% being recycled. In fact, with more than 1 in 5 paper bags making it to the recycling bin, they are much more recyclable than plastic bags. This is mainly due to the fact that recycling schemes run by local councils and municipalities have been widely adopted by the public, coupled with much greater public awareness of where household rubbish goes when disposed of.
2. Paper bags are highly recyclable, as they are organic and can be returned, through bio-degradation, to a natural organic state. This means that they can have multiple eventual uses, including being used for compost by both private gardeners domestically a well as in industry and commerce.
3. Paper bags also come from a renewable source, meaning that any waste produced as a result of their manufacture is replaceable.
4. In general, paper bags are generally comprised of around one-quarter of recycled content, and the industry goal for this figure has been set at 55% to be achieved by 2012.
5. Because paper bags are easily re-used, some shops will give a discount off your total shopping bill for each bag you re-use per shopping trip. Some of this money is donated to wildlife and environmental conservation projects and organisations.
6. On the debit side, paper bags require the use and destruction of natural resources, and namely, that most vital of all nature’s defences against such threats as global warming and soil erosion, the tree. Paper bag production requires the felling of many trees, which also impacts on the biological ecosystem locally.
7. In order to produce and manufacture just a single paper bag, one gallon of water is required. Conversely, the production of one plastic bag requires water levels some 50 times lower.
8. The machines necessary to fell the trees to obtain the necessary pulp to produce paper require to burn fossil fuels for their operation. The burning of these fuels produces pollution, and also results in the further depletion of fossil fuels. In fact, the production of paper bags produces some 70% more air pollution than that involved in the production of plastic bags.
9. All paper products, including paper bags, will end up in landfill sites, and paper products are bulky, and therefore place increasing demands on ever-shrinking land space. As nothing breaks down totally in landfills, our land space will continue to decrease. Paper products are the single biggest users of all landfill space.