Climate Change and Forest Restoration Campaign

Maine Forests and Carbon Sequestration

Are Boreal Forests Becoming a Carbon Source?

Canadians Ponder Cost of Rush for Dirty Oil

A Fourteen Year Old's Opinion on Global Warming

Why I Became a Vegetarian

Paper or Plastic? Neither!

Living With Solar, a Maine Primer

Global Warming and Maine's Forests

Links to global warming news

Paper or Plastic? Neither!

by Teresa Wood

A list on how to reduce your energy consumption and combat global warming includes numerous important suggestions like unplugging your television, computer or radio until you are ready to use them, driving less, changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs, weather stripping your home, washing a full load of clothes and using a clothes line, stopping the use of disposable plastic water bottles, turning down your thermostat in winter and up in the summer. One more item on the list should be: use cloth shopping bags instead of paper or plastic bags.

Here are some facts related to plastic and paper shopping bags and their impact on the environment: Oil and natural gas are the major raw materials of plastics. Great amounts of water and fossil fuels are used annually in the manufacture and subsequent transport of single-use plastic bags to stores and businesses worldwide. Worldwatch Institute says that four to five trillion plastic bags were produced worldwide in 2002 alone and that Americans throw away 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags each year. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags. Most are used just once and discarded.

Contrary to popular thought, using paper bags is not less harmful to the environment than using plastic. It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.

Safeway Plastic Bags: 594 BTUs
Safeway Paper Bags: 2511 BTUs
(Source: 1989 Plastic Recycling Directory, Society of Plastics Industry.)

Of course, most paper comes from tree pulp and each new paper grocery bag you use is made from mostly virgin pulp for better strength and elasticity, so the impact of paper bag production on forests is enormous. In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone. Paper bag production delivers a global warming double-whammy forests, major absorbers of greenhouse gases, have to be cut down, and then the subsequent manufacturing of bags produces greenhouse gases. One 15 to 20 year old tree makes only 700 bags.

Plastic and paper shopping bags are recyclable. Unfortunately, recycling rates of either type of disposable bag are extremely low, with only 10 to 15% of paper bags and 1 to 3% of plastic bags being recycled, according to the Wall Street Journal. Additionally, most people tend to forget that the processes involved in recycling of all products, including plastic and paper shopping bags, include collection, transportation, processing and conversion. All require energy, often derived from oil. The non-recycled bags end up in landfills where degradation is extremely slow or they blow about city streets, countrysides and beaches as ugly litter and potential wildlife killers.

The preferred alternative to this costly energy use is prevention of the waste in the first place. Do not use disposable single-use plastic and paper bags at all. Use a sturdy, long lasting cloth bag to carry home your store purchases. By doing so you will decrease deforestation, litter, and plastic particle contamination in the environment and reduce the environmental and monetary costs of producing, transporting, recycling, and landfilling paper and plastic bags.

Reduce your use of petroleum products and help prevent global warming, one grocery bag at a time.

For more info check out these sites:

336 Back Road, Lexington Township, Maine 04961
phone: 207-628-6404
fax - 207-628-5741

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