It takes more energy, fuel, and water to manufacture paper than plastic. But once a paper bag exits the checkout line, it’s gentler on the environment than its plastic counterpart, and that’s what matters most, says Logan Welde, a staff attorney for the Clean Air Council.
The reasons: People are more likely to recycle paper bags than plastic ones. (To recycle plastic bags, you typically need to find a store that accepts them.) And even when paper is thrown in the trash, it decomposes fully. Plastic does not biodegrade, says Allen Hershkowitz, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. When a plastic bag becomes litter (say, it’s tossed on the street or blows out of a landfill), it sticks around forever, catching onto tree branches, clogging sewer drains, or floating in rivers and oceans.
So the next time you’re given a choice, pick paper over plastic. Better yet, spring for a few new totes or run to the car and get that reusable bag that you meant to bring in with you in the first place.
Still using plastic bags? Find new ways to reuse grocery bags.