Paper or plastic bags

Paper or plastic bags

All of us go shopping at one time or another, and, when we do, how many of us think about what kind of shopping bags we use or request? Perhaps, already aware of the environmental impact of such things, we bring our own ‘bag for life’ every time we shop. But, for those who either don’t yet, or forget to bring it along, which is the best choice — a plastic or a paper bag? Today, the vast majority of plastic bags are constructed from something called polyethylene, which is a type of plastic. Most of this is produced from natural gas, which is an abundant — if, albeit non-renewable source. In its raw form, polyethylene can be worked in order to assume any desirable shape, color, form or size. It is also capable of being made UV resistant, ad is also watertight. It may be printed upon, and is capable of being reused over and over again-although, it cannot be returned to an organic state and cannot be continually recycled.

The very first plastic bags were introduced in 1957, and took the form principally of sandwich bags, with retail leaders like Sears taking on their usage for their in-store products. The grocery plastic bag entered the mass market in 1977, and by 1996 estimates put the use of plastic grocery bags at around 4 out of 5 bags. On the negative side, a report in 2005 showed that only around 5% of plastic bags are recycled-an incredibly low figure. Although this figure had risen to around 30% by the following year, the number is still very low. Plastic bags are capable of being melted and can subsequently be remolded in such things as plastic lumber, which can be used on park benches and fencing material. As far as the remaining almost 95% of un-recycled plastic bags are concerned, they generally find their way into the local landfill site. In terms of their breaking down, it is commonly known that the majority of plastic don’t actually biodegrade, meaning that they don’t assume an organic state which can then be assimilated into the earth.

Rather than this, the plastic bags will degrade as a result of exposure to ultraviolet sun light over a period of time, and will gradually break down into tiny particles that will mix with soil. This process is known as photo-degradation, and the actual time it requires is not fully known, although many scientists believe that plastic will take, even at a conservative estimate, anywhere between 500 and 1,000 years to photo-degrade – even when exposed to ideal conditions in which to do so. There is also no first-hand evidence of such decomposition. This means that, every bit of plastic-including every plastic bag, is still in existence on Earth.

In terms of energy consumption and pollution effect, it seems from studies that polyethylene actually requires less energy than paper bags constructed from 30% recycled fibers. Also, plastic shopping bags give off lower levels of greenhouse gas and waste. Any plastic that is not recycled can also be burned in order to create electricity, which can go towards bringing down sulphur emissions from burning coal. Burning plastics can, however create poisons, and can also give off heavy metals which are carried into the atmosphere. The constant usage of limited natural resources to manufacture plastic bags must also be evaluated in the equation. Landfills also have an impact on the environment, and will be full of waster plastic for centuries, as it does not biodegrade. Plastic bags also account for a large proportion of global litter, and the tiny particles that mix in the soil n also impact on the health of the soil and hence the quality of the plants that grow in it due to their toxicity. As we may well end up eating such plant-as well as any animals that consume the plants, this may well end up impacting us, also.

On the other hand, paper bags originated back in 1883-and come from trees. The figures for the recycling of paper and paper bags is more impressive, standing at a record 56% in 2007, thanks to public awareness and easy road-side collection. It should be remembered, however, that the production of all paper products impacts on natural resources and also results in pollution. This is underscored by the sobering fact that, in order to produce just one paper bag, i gallon of water is consumed. This is 50 times greater than the amount required in the production of plastic bags.

Also, the process of bringing paper bags from forest to shop requires the use of machinery for logging and distribution, all of which utilize fossil fuels, impact on natural habitat, having a knock-on effect on the local ecosystem. It takes an awful lot of resources and production just to make the pulp necessary to make paper bags, and this strain must be carefully weighed. Once the paper is used and discarded, it can be recycled, or else put in a landfill site.

After many years in a landfill, the paper will eventually break down back into an organic state. Paper bags can be usefully recycled in the garden domestically, placed under the topsoil where it will prevent weeds and will degrade at a much faster rate. At recycling centers, the paper bags are broken down into waste materials that can be used in such products are fertilizers and bricks. In conclusion, it seems that both types of bag-whether paper or plastic, require large portions of natural resources in their production and life-cycle. Both are recyclable-at least to an extent, and there are merits and demerits to each. As an illustration of the difficult balance, paper takes more resources in its production, but it can be much more readily and easily recycled than plastic. Perhaps the best choice is a reusable bag made from recycled materials that you can use again and again. Some supermarkets give a discount for customers using these types of bags, and many feel that they are a way forward in recyclable bags and planet conservation.

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