Paper or Plastic: The Debate on Grocery Store Bags, Part 1/2

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Paper or Plastic: Which Do You Choose?

So which will it be then, paper OR plastic, hmmm? The question is tough to avoid, unless you’ve figured out how to eat without EVER going to the grocery store. Chances are, most of us haven’t given the choice too much thought – or if we have, we remained clueless as to which was the lesser of the two evils. Understanding the impact that paper and plastic bags have on the environment is a great place to start. Inevitably, consciousness will lead you to purchase a canvas or otherwise re-useable bag for your grocery shopping, but educating yourself on the differences between paper and plastic is also a smart idea.Paper Bags: Environmental Impact and Recycling Issues

The Troubles With Paper Bags

It’s common knowledge that paper comes from trees that are found and later felled by the logging industry. Logging involves machines — from the machines used to remove the trees from the forests, to the logging trucks or helicopters involved in the process of harvesting, to the machines used to strip the bark – and like anything involving machines, fossil fuels are not far behind. Forest habitat is destroyed in the process, and surrounding ecology is negatively impacted. Sources say that “in 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone.”

To accelerate the drying process that trees must go through in order to be prepared for pulp, they are stripped, chipped and “cooked” under heat with an acid (composed of sulphurous acid and limestone), for hours. From nearly three tons of these wood chips will come one ton of pulp, which must be washed and bleached, requiring large amounts of clean water. Coloring is later added, after which the mixture of pulp and water is filtered and rolled into paper. Through production, packaging and shipping, more fuels and chemicals are used and further environmental damage is sustained.

Paper Bags and Recycling

After a paper bag is used, it will either end up in a landfill or it will be recycled. Eventually, after many years, the paper bag will break down in the landfill. At the recycling center, through the use of chemicals to break down the materials and clean them, the paper becomes pulp once more. Paper bags eventually break down and can be composted, unless they are covered with printing and ink.

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Continue on to Part 2:
Plastic Bags: Environmental Impact and Recycling Issues, Conclusion

Other references on the subject of Paper vs. Plastic Bags:
Grassroots Recycling Network

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