Which is best? The environmentalist is most of us would say paper. Of course we would say paper, plastic is made from that oily stuff that pollutes oceans. What if I told you the answer isn’t as simple as you may think.
We have to consider the entire life cycle of the products. Yes, plastic is made from oil, but paper is made from trees. Is deforestation really better than oil drilling? In addition to this, the production of paper bags is way more intensive than the production of plastic bags.
The good news is that both can be made from recycled content, cutting all of these numbers down a notch. The bad news is that, while plastic bags can be pretty much continually recycled into new bags, paper bags must be downcycled into something that’s pretty much useless. Ever used those absolutely dreadful brown paper towels? Then you know what I mean (I want to get rid of the liquid, not move it around!). You can also reuse plastic bags several times before they get holes and become useless; many people use them as garbage bags. Paper bags, on the other hand, easily tear, which limits their reusability.
This represents a significant issue with sustainability marketing. People are making assumptions on appropriate enviro-socially responsible behaviours based on what they perceive to be typical green attitudes, such as the long held belief that plastic is worse than paper because it is produced from oil. Sustainability has come a long way since then but casual greens are not getting the message. Sustainability marketing needs to be more active in its communication. Old attitudes need to be replaced with new ones.
I know what you’re thinking. Raman, are you trying to convince me that plastic bags are better than paper bags? Are you sure? No, I’m not. What am I sure of? Use a reusable cloth or poly bag.