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So if I don’t want to use plastic bags then would I suggest using paper as an alternative? Well actually no I wouldn’t.

Cutting down trees to make disposable paper products is very bad for the environment

Converting hard wood into paper bags is difficult work and results in more pollution than making a plastic bag.

Heres are some statistics are quoted on Wikipedia 

  •  Pulp mills contribute to air, water and landpollution. Discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35 percent by weight of municipal solid waste (before recycling).[1] Even paper recyclingcan be a source of pollution due to the sludge produced during de-inking.[2]
  • Pulp and paper is the third largest industrial polluter to air, water, and land in both Canada and the United States, and releases well over 100 million kg of toxic pollution each year.[5]
  • Worldwide, the pulp and paper industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, accounting for four percent of all the world’s energy use. The pulp and paper industry uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry.[6]

That’s not to say that plastic is a clean product but most sources agree it takes less resources to produce a plastic bag than a paper bag.

It also takes less resources to transport them. Paper is much heavier than plastic, more bulky and more expensive to move.

It is often argued that plastic bags are more likely to be reused usually as bin liners or as dog poop bags. If recycled bags were not available, users would have to buy plastic bin liners and poop bags new.  Which means f course that plastic bags are still being used but in a  less sustainable way.

But not all plastic bags are reused as bin liners and not everyone has a dog. Many bags are used once and then discarded.If all plastic bags were recycled say their advocates they would beat paper bags hands down. But  they are not. Most end up in landfill some end up as litter. Not all paper bags are recyled either but if they are dropped as litter they quickly biodegrade. Plastic bags do not and accumulate in the environment with serious consequences.


Indicator of Environmental Impact

Plastic bag
HDPE lightweight
*


Paper bag 

 Consumption of nonrenewable primary energy

 1.0

 1.1

 Consumption of water

 1.0

 4.0

 Climate change (emission of greenhouse gases)

 1.0

 3.3

 Acid rain (atmospheric acidification)

 1.0

 1.9

 Air quality (ground level ozone formation)

 1.0

 1.3

 Eutrophication of water bodies *

 1.0

 14.0

 Solid waste production

 1.0

 2.7

 Risk of litter

 1.0

 0.2

The Scottish Report (2005) http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/57346/0016899.pdf

But while paper is more environmentally damaging, plastic pollution is reaching unacceptable levels and has to be tackled.

We have to stop using plastic to make disposable bags. We have to find sustainable alternatives.

Reusables Rather Than Disposables

For all the above I would be cautious about suggesting paper disposables as an alternative to plastic disposables.

My solution would be  to replace all disposables with reusables whenever possible.

Where disposables are offered they should be biodegradable and certified compostable so if they do end up as litter they will cause no damage to environment. I believe the current end problems of plastic pollution are greater than the initial problems of paper production pollution.

I would suggest

Bag Tax

However it is a very close call and the problems of paper pollution are big and not to be ignored. Nor would I like to see compostable plastic used to excess.

I would see all disposable packaging reduced as much as possible. Products should be sold loose and all onward packaging should have a clean up tax  attached i.e. All bags and packaging have to be paid for.

People bringing their own bags and packaging would obviously not have to pay

Reusable versus plastic bag case study….

The Environment Agency a UK government body has done a Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags Report SC030148 Read the report your self right here. It claims you would have use a cotton bag 393 times before its environmental impact equalled that of plastic bags.

Here are their maths….

It takes less resources to make one plastic bag then it does to make a reusable cotton bag.
pollution featured featured

Therefore a cotton bag has to be used 131 times before it equals a plastic bag.

If the plastic bags are then reused twice (so they are used 3 times in total) the cotton bag has to be used 393 times before it equals the environmental impact of the 131 polythene bags used 3 times each.

If the plastic bag is reused as a bin liner ( which is what most people do with them) then it is 327 times.

Do your cotton bags fall apart after 393 uses? Fall apart so badly they cannot be repaired? Mine don’t.

I have fair-trade organic string bags which I bought back in 2006 when I started my boycott. I am still using them and the cotton produce bags I bought at the same time 6 years later  ( and still now in 2015 come to that) .

Here are my maths….

Say I use one string bag 3 times a week. That would be for the weekly supermarket shop, the trips to the local butchers and green grocers, town on a Saturday to get library books and bits and bobs, carrying cabbages from the allotment, carrying cushions and all the other gubbins you use a bag for.

So say I use one string bag a very conservative 3 times a week over 52 weeks, (and the bag does go away with us and has been all round the world ),  I will use that bag at least 156 times a year in total

Over 6 years  I will have used that bag 936 times. My cotton bag is already 3 times greener than the plastic alternative and is good for many years yet. Actually it is even greener. You can get so much more in a string bag then a plastic bag. My string bag is worth at least 1 1/2  plastic bags for capacity.

When my bag does fall apart I will reuse it as a net to grow beans up then eventually compost it in my own compost bin.

Conclusions

If I didn’t have a reusable bag I would have to have used 312 plastic bags 3 times each in that time.

That’s 312 bags in the trash to be disposed of. They will most likely be landfilled or incinerated. Some of them might have blown off the truck during transportation. Wind blown refuse is a documented cause of litter.

Because we spend a lot of time abroad, some of them would have gone into bins in isolated villages in remote parts of the world – places that lack a waste collection service. Those bins would have been emptied into the river.

Produce bags…

As for produce bags; does any one reuse a produce bag 3 times – I don’t think so. Once as a dog poop bag maybe. But even if you do my cotton bags still win hands down.

Some Alternatives 

 

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