Life has many questions. What came first the chicken or the egg? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Paper or plastic? We grapple with these questions everyday. I'm still researching the answer to the first two questions, but I've got some ideas about the third.
Many people are divided over what seems to be a simple issue — paper or plastic?
Some people think plastic bags are better for the environment than paper bags. That's because plastic bags are smaller and more compact, so they take less fuel to transport. Plastic bags are also recyclable and studies have shown that it takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.
On top of that, according to a 2007 study by Boustead Consulting & Associates, It takes about four times more energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a polyethylene bag.
However, others say paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags. Their argument is that paper bags are biodegradable and made from renewable resources, making them better for the environment.
They also argue paper bags are also more sturdy than plastic bags and have the potential to be reused more times than plastic.
In addition, paper bags pose less of a threat than plastic bags to animals if they are introduced into the environment.
When plastic bags are thrown away, some of them make their way into the ocean, where animals often mistake them for food and try to eat them or get tangled in them.
Even though both plastic and paper bags are recyclable, the sad truth of the matter is that more than 85 percent of paper bags and more than 90 percent of plastic bags end up in the trash.
Paper and plastic bags are both convenient, but at what cost? Even if you always recycle your plastic and paper bags it still takes resources to break the bags down and make them into new products.
In the mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle," reduce comes first because that's what we should always try to do first.
In that spirit, allow me to introduce a third option to the paper-or-plastic debate — reusable bags.
It doesn't matter if it's canvas, cotton or nylon, any bag that can be used over and over again is going to be better for the environment than paper or plastic.
In my experience, the only trouble is remembering to bring your reusable bags to the store so you don't have to buy more bags at the checkout, which I've had to do a couple of times.
Now I just leave my reusable bags in my car so it's easier to remember. I think the small trouble of bringing your own bags is worth saving our natural resources.
So remember: the next time you wonder "paper or plastic?" answer the question with "neither," and opt for reusable instead.