What's in a Shopping Bag?
If you have gone food shopping then you have probably heard the checkout person ask, “Paper or plastic?” The best answer, of course, is neither. If you can, you should bring your own tote bags to the food store to save on using so many shopping bags every week. If you have to choose though, which shopping bag is worse for the environment? Paper bags are made from natural fibers that come from lumber waste. Plastic bags are made from the waste that is left over when oil is cleaned. Paper bags, if left out in the sun and rain, will break down or “biodegrade.” Plastic bags will last for a very long time even if left out in sun and rain.
Even knowing all this, plastic shopping bags are still thought to be better for the environment to use than paper shopping bags. How can this be? We'll compare them. Research has shown that making paper bags from trees grown on plantations takes more energy than plastic bags made from oil refinery waste. Paper bags take up about seven times the space of plastic bags and take more energy and cost to ship to stores. Paper bags take up much more room in the landfills than plastic. Paper may break down faster than plastic, but only if it is exposed to the elements. In a packed and covered landfill, they will last a long time too. Overall, it is best to bring your own shopping bags to the grocery store if you can. Store them under the seat in your car, so you have them the next time you shop. If you do take paper or plastic shopping bags from the store, save them and use them until they fall apart. Paper grocery bags are great for covering schoolbooks. See if your food store will put in a recyclable plastic bag collection bin.How Plastic Bags Can Be Dangerous
Plastic bags that are lost in the wind travel a long way. Sometimes they can blow out into the ocean. Here they can hurt ocean animals. As you read in the ocean pollution chapter, sea turtles sometimes eat plastic bags, thinking they are jellyfish. This can block their stomach and make them starve. Seals, whales, and dolphins can also be hurt the same way. Plastic bags also get pushed in the wind against fences, building up into an ugly mess. They clog drains, sewers, and intake fans. They have caused such a problem in some countries that they have been banned, and people who still use them are taxed or fined.