Paper Bag Facts 2019
Paper or plastic? It’s a question that most consumers have heard at least once in their lives. In fact, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that paper bags are far better for the environment than plastic bags are. The real question is, is that really true?
According to some paper bag facts, that may not always be the case. Whether it’s better to use paper or plastic depends on a few things, including the right conditions. To set the record straight, we’ve assembled six of the most important paper bag facts for 2019 in this list article. Each of the facts sheds a bit more light on some of the misconceptions surrounding the use of paper versus plastic, allowing you to make a more educated decision about which one to choose when the time comes.
1. Ideal Conditions Create a Better Breakdown Rate
Most people choose paper bags over plastic ones because they assume that paper bags break down at a faster rate than plastic ones do. However, according to Reuse This Bag, how fast a paper bag breaks down has more to do with where and how it’s disposed of than the material that makes up the bag.
In landfills, where many paper and plastic bags go to die, the conditions for the bags breaking down aren’t ideal. To break down paper, you need an abundance of oxygen, light, and air, three elements that are not always plentiful at the bottom of a landfill heap. When paper bags are disposed of in a landfill, they actually decompose at about the same rate as the plastic ones do due to the conditions in the landfill.
2. What Does It Cost?
A BBC article points out that producing paper bags takes more energy than most people think. According to research cited in the article, it actually takes four times the amount of energy to make a paper bag than it does to produce a plastic one.
The reason behind this is simple. To make a paper bag, you need to cut down trees, lots of them. Plastic bags are made from leftovers, more or less. The manufacturing process for these carbon-based bags also produces more toxic chemicals during the manufacturing process than paper bags do. Finally, paper weighs more than plastic, which adversely affects the cost of transporting the paper bags.
3. Paper Bags in America
According to Renewable Bag, Americans are lucky when it comes to paper bags. A full 96% of people in America have access to paper bags and other paper products via local recycling programs. Additionally, the recovery rate for paper bags in the U.S. stands at almost 70%, going up from the previous rate, which has been at or above 63% for the past nine years.
4. What’s in the Bag?
While people go back and forth about using paper versus plastic, a New York Times article points out that it’s often more important to keep track of what’s in the bag rather than what the bag is made from.
Although paper bags can help the environment under the right circumstances, the fact is, the global food system produces more greenhouse gases than the bags people carry the food home in. According to the article, only about 5% of food production’s carbon footprint comes from the packaging.
5. How Many Bags Does it Take?
Guess how many bags you get when you chop down a 15-year-old tree to make paper bags from. 5,000? 2,000? 700? According to the University of Southern Indiana, if you guessed 700, then you’d be right. Sadly, while it took 15 years to grow the tree, the average supermarket will go through that number of bags in less than an hour.
6. State Bans on Plastic
A few American states have implemented bans on plastic bag use, thus encouraging the use of biodegradable bags made from materials, like paper and cotton. According to NCSL, the states that have already jumped on this bandwagon are California, New York, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii. (Okay. Technically, D.C. isn’t a state, but you get the idea.)