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At the Checkout: Paper or Plastic?

You're at the checkout, and you forgot your reusable shopping bags. Do you choose paper or plastic?

  • Plastic bags cost less to transport, take up less landfill space, require less energy to recycle, and cause less global warming pollution.
  • It takes quadruple the energy to produce a paper bag than a plastic bag, and more water pollutants and air pollutants are released in the process.
  • Conventional paper grocery bags are made from virgin wood pulp, not recycled materials, so forests are destroyed for paper production.

On the other hand:

  • Most plastic bags are made from petroleum, using hazardous waste chemicals. Paper bags are made without petrochemicals and can be produced from sustainable forests (forests in which every harvested tree is replenished with a new seedling).
  • Paper bags are biodegradable, and are recycled more often than nonbiodegradable plastic bags. Discarded plastic bags can also clog waterways and kill sea animals.
  • Paper bags can hold more than plastic if well-packed, meaning fewer bags are required.

So which is the best choice? It depends. Before you carry all your groceries home by the armload, remember that you can make the smartest choice for you simply by choosing the type of bag you're most likely to reuse.

For instance, you can use paper bags for wrapping boxes, making craft projects, or transporting items to friends and family members. Plastic bags can be used as trashcan liners, cat litter waste bags, or even makeshift packing material for moving or shipping fragile items. And if you have a stockpile of either, you can donate them to a shop that reuses bags.

Your local co-op may have other eco-friendly alternatives, too, or reward shoppers for bringing reusable bags from home.

What’s your choice: paper or plastic? Let us know in comments below.