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Monday, March 9, 2009

The Great Debate: Paper vs. Plastic

"Would you like paper or plastic, ma'am?" Until very recently, I would answer "Plastic!" with great confidence that I was helping save the environment. No trees would die because of my choice and I knew that I would reuse the plastic bags in many different ways at home. However, I've found that the answer to the "paper or plastic" dilemma is neither. Research shows that they are almost equal in pros and cons, as they both consume natural resources and cause pollution.

1. Both impact wildlife in a negative manner and pollute our environment.
According to the Federal Office of the Environment, paper bags generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
However, plastics have been used for quite sometime (somewhere between 500-1,000 years) and there is no firsthand evidence of its decomposition. That means that more than likely, every piece of plastic that has been created is still here on Earth.

2. During their life process, they both create toxic by-products.
The production of paper bags alone contribute to global warming due to the amount of trees that have to be cut (trees absorb large amounts of greenhouse gases) and the manufacturing of the bags produces greenhouse gases.
When plastics aren't recycled, they are often burned. While burning plastics can lead to a decrease in overall sulfur emissions from coal due to the 10,000-20,000 btu/pound that's yielded that can be used to create electricity. The inks and additives found in plastic can create dioxins and emit heavy metals into the air when burned.

3. Neither is effectively recycled.
For example, most plastic bags are made from a type of plastic called polyethylene. Eighty percent of polyethylene is made from natural gas, which is abundant, but non-renewable resource. In many cases, it can be recycled, but isn't considered "cradle to cradle" meaning it cannot be recycled over and over again, nor returned to an organic state.

4. Both consume valuable natural resources for a disposable product and most end up in landfills.

Taking all of these points into consideration, buy a reusable shopping bag. They seem to be the best choice. However, if you can't let go of your plastic bags, there are some places that recycle them (even though it seems that they have to be in near-perfect condition).
Click here for a location in your area:

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