The use of paper or plastic bags has been an ongoing debate for quite sometime. Initially plastic bags were created to offset the need to use paper bags, which was thought to be terribly destructive to the environment. People believed that by using plastic bags, they would reduce the need to harvest large swaths of forest in order to sustain the demand for paper bags. Although this concept of eliminating paper bags seemed to be completely rational, an unexpected shift occurred, due to the fact that paper bags were more expensive and less durable than their paper counterparts. This has led plastic bags to capture all but 20% of the bag market for grocery and convenience store shoppers.
Because of this increased demand for plastic bags, they now litter landfills all around the world and adulterate the pristine landscapes of various regions. According to Vincent Cobb, an entrepreneur who calls Chicago, Illinois home, “The numbers are absolutely staggering”. This is in reference to the quantity of bags being consumed every year JUST in the United States, which, in 2001 was estimated at 500 billion to 1 trillion bags. From this enormous number, experts have calculated that millions end up in rivers, streams, and landfills.
Once plastic bags end up in the environment, it can take hundreds of year for them to break down completely. Paper bags on the other hand are very biodegradable and will disappear within a few years. As plastic bags break down also, dangerous toxins are released into the soil, which can contaminate an area severely. Some good things about plastic bags though, is the fact that they consume “40 percent less energy than paper bags, generate 80 percent less solid waste, produce 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and finally release up to 94 fewer waterborne wastes.”
Below is a link to a short but interesting take on the debate of paper or plastic.