Paper bags are worse for environment

Letter to the Editor - stockimage

To the editor:

Let’s do the right thing by making an educated decision.

We all want to be environmentally responsible and, at first blush, one might think that would mean choosing paper over plastic bags.  Paper comes from trees, a renewable resource would seem like the better environmental choice over plastic. But plastic which is derived from natural gas, is substantially cleaner to manufacture, lighter and easier to recycle than paper. The energy, water, and air pollution used to make paper or recycle it makes it a worse environmental choice by a substantial margin.

The best choice would be a reusable bag that is good for multiple trips to the store. These bags are usually made from polyester, which is a type of plastic material that gives the bags good functionality.

The second choice would be High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) bags, which are light weight and easily reused, repurposed, or recycled. To recycle an HDPE bag takes 91 percent less energy than recycling a paper bag, which weighs 8 to10 times more therefore takes up more space in shipping as well as in a landfill. Recycled HDPE can go into many consumer items like plastic decking boards.

In North America today we cut down 14 million trees each year just to make paper bags. This, of course, impacts our global warming problem two-fold. First, the trees help absorb CO2, so by cutting them down we decrease a natural CO2 user. In addition, the processing and transportation of the heavier paper bags gives off 50 percent more GHG (Green House Gases) than the equivalent plastic bags do.

The clear environmental choice for our planet is plastic bags, multiple use ones first, then single use.

I have heard the argument to ban them, which is about litter and impact to the animals in the bay. Litter is a problem created by people, not a material. I’m not aware of excess litter of plastic bags or trash in town. If we had a litter problem we should take measures to control it.

We are on a path to ban the better environmental material, instead of banning the worse material. It is a short-sighted view to ban plastic bags as we should be looking at what is best for the overall environment, taking into account the production and recycling lifecycles of both types of bags.

Paper bags have a more deleterious impact on all the animals on our planet than plastic. Let’s work together to make recycling of plastic bags easier through education and more convenient collection stations. That way we can provide consumers with the more environmentally friendly bag and keep them out of our bay.

Jonathan Fain

Barrington

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