The Ins and Outs of Plastic Bags

September 2nd, 2013 BY ChrisD | 2 Comments
paper shopping bag

Many cities have made the decision to ban plastic bags. The underlying concerns are valid. Plastic presents a serious environmental threat in terms of landfill waste and longevity in the environment. However, is plastic really the villain as it is portrayed? The answer may surprise you.

The Bad Side of Plastic Bags

Plastic bags have a major failing. They do not decompose. The plastic bags that you get at the store are made of a chemical that decomposing bacteria do not recognize as food. That means that plastic bags may stay in landfills for decades.

Plastic Bags and Fossil Fuels

Another problem with plastic bags is its use of fossil fuels. Estimates range that up to 12 million barrels of oil are used just in the United States alone to produce the annual supply of plastic bags it uses. With rising gasoline costs, the convenience of plastic bags hardly seems justified. The advantage that they offer the consumer is cost. Between paper, plastic and biodegradable bags, plastic is the cheapest.

Energy Consumption and Plastic Bags

Despite the negative impacts of plastic bags, a more detailed look at their production yields some startling facts. A study by the American Chemistry Council looked at the energy usage of the three most common types of shopping bags: plastic, paper and biodegradable. Of the three, plastic bag production used the least amount of energy.

A breakdown of the energy costs provides additional information. A comparison of fossil fuel use found that paper bags used 55 percent more. However, biodegradable bags used over 170 percent more fossil fuel. The figures for greenhouse gas emissions show similar findings. Paper bags produced twice as much emissions. Biodegradable bags, on the other hand, produced nearly five times the amount as compared to plastic bags.

The Best Choice

The reality is that of the three types of bags, plastic bags have the least impact in the production phase. The environmental costs, however, might offset the benefits of other choices. Another option remains that is clearly the best one of all. Cloth bags offer the least post-production impact and reduced manufacturing costs. It is one choice that stands clear above the rest.

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