Paper Bags Not Environmentally Friendly
A staple of supermarkets across the pond, paper bags have recently made a resurgence in the UK with companies like Morrisons introducing them as an environmentally-friendly alternative to single-use plastic shopping bags. Their rising use is no surprise as eco-friendly packaging has been a key issue for most manufacturers and bags have provided the perfect solution…or so it seems.
The truth, however, is not as simple. In reality, paper bags are far from environmentally-friendly, or at least far from being as environmentally-friendly as they are portrayed to be. Let’s take a more in-depth look at why exactly that’s the case.
Manufacturing Paper Bags Is Inefficient
The big myth around paper bags being environmentally-friendly stems from the fact that they are bio-degradable which is a feature often associated with eco-friendly products and goods. However, once you look beyond degradability, you begin to get an entirely different view of paper bags, especially when you look at the high rates of carbon emissions that their manufacturing generates.
Paper bags, as you would assume, are made from trees which makes them both easy to recycle and a renewable and sustainable resource. All sounds environmentally-friendly so far, right? Wrong. You might be surprised to find out that it is actually more energy-efficient to create single-use plastic shopping bags then it is to complete the entire process of turning trees into paper bags. Manufacturing paper bags is so inefficient that a 2011 assessment by the Environmental Agency found that you would need to use a paper bag a minimum of three times for it to have the same carbon footprint and environmental impact as a single use plastic bag.
Paper Bags vs Plastic Bags
And it only gets worse for paper bags when you start to consider their durability and likely period of use in comparison to the more robust and waterproof plastic bags, that are often far more likely to be used multiple times. Even recycling paper bags does little to make them more environmentally-friendly.
The superiority of plastic bags over paper bags, when it comes to eco-friendliness at least, is further strengthened by findings published in a 2011 paper by the Northern Ireland Assembly. The findings state that manufacturing a plastic bag uses over four times less energy than manufacturing a paper bag.
But it’s not all bad news for paper bags, as they are still far more environmentally-friendly than the cotton bags currently loved by those looking to make a positive change in their consumer habits. Sadly, these cotton bags and totes require over 100 uses to even become carbon neutral.