The above question has been asked millions of times since the invent of plastic products in 1907. Both paper and plastic products cause a certain degree of harm to our planet, so the only way to deduce which is better is by figuring out which is less damaging, thereby discovering which is better. Since we at Kiki Bag are in the business of manufacturing branded paper bags, we’re going to use plastic versus paper bags to shed some light on this issue.
The first step in comparing paper bags versus plastic bags is to look at the manufacturing process of each:
Paper bags are made from paper sourced predominantly from sustainable tree farms. However, it requires more energy to produce a paper bag than it does to produce a plastic one.
Plastic bags are made from oil, which is a finite resource on Earth and takes millions of years to replace. The processing of oil to plastic and then to plastic bags uses many toxic chemicals.
The next step is to determine which is better for the environment once discarded, or once ending up in a landfill or in the ocean:
Paper bags are more biodegradable than plastic bags, however they require a combination of water, sunlight and oxygen to degrade correctly.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable, and a plastic bag in a landfill will take longer than 1000 years to degrade. Plastic packets also contribute to the loss of ocean life, as 10% of all produced each year ends up in the ocean (the rest is buried in landfill sites).
Another consideration in the paper versus plastic debate is how easily each is to recycle:
Paper bags have an average recycling rate of 10-15%, but require more energy to recycle. This is because the paper has to be broken down to a pulp once more using chemicals and bleach.
Plastic bags have a much lower recycling rate of 1-3%, which means less plastic is recycled than paper and these unrecycled plastic packets end up in the environment instead.
Kit Cassingham, owner of We Get Greener, lays out a few pros and cons for both plastic bags and paper bags, and these can be seen below:
So, the time has come to cast a verdict on the issue of whether or not paper is better than plastic. Our answer? It depends on what you deem important. If money is the primary consideration, then plastic bags are better because they are cheaper to manufacture. If the environment and the welfare of all living beings residing on planet Earth is the most important consideration, then paper bags are better.