Which is better plastic bag or paper bag for packaging?
Whenever we talk about conserving the environment, controlling pollution and other things to save Mother Earth. One of the solutions that we all have to think of, when we talk of pollution control is using a paper bag instead of a plastic one.
But will using paper bags solve this huge problem of waste management? Maybe because it will be biodegradable waste which will not linger for millions of years? But is it the right move?
Are paper bags a better option than plastic bags? The answer to this simple question is not so simple when we look at the statistics. From a 15 to 20-year-old tree, we can make only 700 bags.
When we look at the number of trees cut down for paper bags, we will come to the number of 3 Billion trees for a year. If we divide it into a month we will get 250 million trees which are cut every month. We can narrow it down to a day as well which will result in 8,333,333 trees or approximately 8.4 million trees per day.
If we keep dividing and specifying the numbers we will come down to 96.4 trees in a second, which is a mind-blogging number in itself.
Not just that, we are yet to talk about water consumption between the two bags, and the carbon footprint they are leaving. We are comparing them so that we can make the right choice.
This is about comparing and checking the facts and statistics to make sure which one is better than the other. So that we can come to a clear conclusion about what should we use.
In this blog, we will compare the pros and cons of using paper and plastic bags and see which one is a better option when it comes to packaging.
Are paper bags better than plastic bags?
We know that since childhood we are being told that the best alternative to plastic bags is paper bags due to their biodegradability. But does this single fact make paper bags better than plastic bags on all levels? The answer is No.
The biodegradable aspect of paper bags only impacts the littering and garbage disposal problem only to some extent. When we see the other aspects and requirements for paper bags, we will see that paper bags have a worse impact on the environment as compared to the plastic bag.
The amount of water that is needed to produce a single paper bag is 1 gallon which is 3.78 litres or approximately 4 litres which is a huge amount of resource. During the manufacturing process, paper bags are more energy-consuming in their manufacturing processes.
These paper bags release 68% more greenhouse gases into the environment and 38% more gases during their process of decomposition.
The chemicals required in the process of paper making are too harsh and extensive.
All these things are indicators of why using paper bags might not be such a bright idea as it looks. Using paper bags was always hailed as one of the most effective ways to tackle the problem of littering but then the before and after impacts of paper bags are quite severe, as well.
What are the pros and cons of paper bags?
We have talked about the statistics of the manufacturing of paper bags. In this section, we will shed some light on the pros and cons of paper bags and paper packaging.
Pros of paper bags
- A reusable paper bag can hold more weight than a single-use plastic bag.
- This is one of the most important and popular features of the paper bag which is their biodegradability. Compared to the traditional plastic bag which can take up to centuries to decompose a paper may hardly take a year.
- Another feature of paper bags is their properties to be recycled. Paper bags are very easy to recycle and reuse which can help with reducing the number of trees used to produce paper bags.
Cons of paper bags
- As paper bags need to be of higher density to hold weight like single-use plastic. Due to this, the paper bags tend to take up more space.
- As paper bags take more resources during the manufacturing process. It tends to be more expensive than its plastic counterpart.
- Paper bags are easily decomposed when it comes in contact with water or any other liquid. This makes the paper bag not waterproof.
- The manufacturing process of a paper bag is quite laborious and uses more resources. It needs more water, more energy, more chemicals and more time to make paper which results in high use of resources.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of plastic bags?
In the previous section, we talked about the pros and cons of paper bags. In this section, we will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of plastic bags. So that we can understand and come to a conclusion that which is better, plastic bag or paper bag for packaging.
Advantages of plastic bags
- When we compare the thickness and weight endurance ratio then plastic bags are more durable when compared to paper bags of the same thickness.
- Another well-known property of plastic is its water resistance. Due to its water-resistant property, it is compatible to be used in rain and helps with protecting the packages from humidity and moisture.
- As plastic bag takes up fewer resources to manufacture and it is low on the side of energy consumption as well which makes them affordable when compared to paper bag.
- Plastic is a very lightweight material. This property makes it easy to store and takes up less space.
- Most plastic bags are recyclable which puts less pressure on fossil fuel usage and the production of new virgin plastic. Some packaging bags like courier bags are widely used and recyclable.
The disadvantage of plastic bags
- We know that plastic is quite useful and affordable but the problem comes from improper waste management which is getting harmful to the environment.
- Plastic is a non-biodegradable material that takes centuries to decompose. Its decomposition rate is alarmingly low which is creating the problem of used plastic being seen as garbage and the constant production of new plastic bags is not helping at all.
- Due to improper waste management of untreated plastic bags and other plastic things. These plastic items that should have been in recycling faculty are getting into seas and oceans which is creating danger for marine life.
Paper Bag or Plastic Bag: which one to use?
Now that we have talked about the resources which are used up in paper bag manufacturing. Then we discussed the pros and cons of both paper and plastic bags.
After gauging and assessing both of them we have concluded that they are equally harmful to Earth in both the short and long term.
While plastic bags are low on energy in the manufacturing process, it takes centuries to decompose. A paper bag takes up too many resources and leaves a huge carbon footprint. Both of these things are quite bad in the long term.
The only thing that will make a difference is the way we use them. Our usage and our wisdom will make a huge difference when we think of tackling the problem of waste management as well as sustainability.
So, we will conclude that both paper bags and plastic bags are equal and it depends on how we use them.
Suman Mandal has been in the packaging industry for a long time. She is passionate about the innovative ways this industry comes up with. Currently, she is writing for To The Packaging about various packaging solutions.