Paper bags are being promoted aggressively, and continuously. They’re strong, eco-friendly, reusable. So much better than old plastic bags. They’re bad for the environment, cost so much to make, clog everything up, tear up so easily. Yuck. I’m going to stick to paper thanks.
Certain governments have banned the usage of plastic bags on the grounds that it is bad for the environment, and that paper, or other reusable bags should be used instead because they are better.
But is it really better? Or is all this just a hyped up environmentalist rubbish? Allow me to pick apart their argument, thread by thread.
Plastic or Paper?
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Public debate over this topic usually ends up riding on emotional pleas to save the Earth or marine life. While I love clams and sea turtles as much as the next guy, I think a little logic and reason is in order.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), plastic bags, sacks, and other wraps make up only around 1.6% of all municipal solid waste materials. The most common kind of plastic grocery bag, made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) make up just 0.3% of this. That means plastic grocery bags only account for 0.48% of all municipal waste.
Not only do they contribute exponentially less to environmental waste than other forms of baggage, but also are less taxing on the environment to produce. Compared to grocery bags, the production of plastic bags emit less greenhouse gases and require 70% less energy to make. Two very important concerns today. They also generate 80% less waste, and use up less than 4% of the amount of water paper bags do. As plastic bags are lighter, they take up less space to dispose of as well. In fact, they use less than seven times as less as paper bags.
And reusable bags aren’t much better. Much like paper bags, they too have a larger carbon footprint than their plastic counterparts. But by far the most disconcerting, and disturbing is the fact that the usage of reusable bags has led to increased health problems due to food contamination from the bacteria that takes up residence in the bags.
In November of 2012, University of Pennsylvania’s law professor, Jonathan Klick, and George Mason University’s law professor and economist Joshua D Wright conducted a statistical analysis. They found that the San Francisco plastic bag ban of 2007 led an absurd increase in the number of people coming in to hospital emergency rooms due to E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter-related intestinal infectious diseases. They also found that the ban resulted in several additional deaths in the city each year from such infections.
And then there are economic factors to consider. California alone would lose over 2000 jobs instantly from the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry. There would also be a drastic loss in government revenue coming from the sale and purchase of plastic bags. Following this, there would be two possible outcomes:
1) The government reduces expenditure in certain sectors (unlikely)
2) The government raises taxation levels
Option two isn’t very favourable, as that would mean an increase in prices and/or a decrease in salary earned (corporation tax). If, somehow, option one is put into play, it isn’t a very positive outcome either. This decrease could affect development rates, the average standard of living. Government services would worsen, and some may be completely dissolved. Not good.
Despite all the aforementioned reasons as to why plastic bags are not a bane; why paper or other reusable bags are in fact so, so much worse than plastic bags, and why the usage of plastic bags is actually beneficial, environmentalists still have every right to try and dissuade you from using plastics, and to use paper bags instead. They cannot, and should not, however, use government force to make us switch sides. They should at least leave the fundamental decision of ‘paper or plastic‘ (tweet that – you read the whole thing, after all) to the consumer.
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