Plastic or Paper: Which is Friendlier to the Environment?
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Plastic or Paper: Which is Friendlier to the Environment?

Plastic shopping bags, plastic market or grocery bags are a type of shopping bag made from different kinds of plastic which are common worldwide. These bags are once called single-use bags, referring to carrier of items from market/store to the house. Another uses are for storage and for trash is very common, but modern plastic bags are increasingly biodegradable and recyclable.


Plastic shopping bags, plastic market or grocery bags are a type of shopping bag made from different kinds of plastic which are common worldwide. These bags are once called single-use bags, referring to carrier of items from market/store to the house. Another uses are for storage and for trash is very common, but modern plastic bags are increasingly biodegradable and recyclable. 

Short History

The US and European countries patent application regarding the production of plastic shopping bags dates back to the early as 1950s. These also refer to the complex structure with handles fixed to the bag in another manufacturing process. The new lightweight plastic bag is the invention of chemist form Sweden Sten Gustaf Thulin. He developed the idea for forming a single piece bag by folding, dir-cutting and adhering a flat tube of plastic in the early 1960s. Thulin made it for a packaging company Celloplast of Norrkoping, Sweden. His design produced a simple but strong bag with a heavy load carrying capacity and was patented by Celloplast in 1965 worldwide.

The F&H is a paper bag and the “Yvonne” is a plastic bag

Plastic Ban Implementation

MANILA, Philippines (April 5, 2012) - Senator Loren Legarda proposed a total ban on the use of plastic bags in the country to avoid indiscriminate waste habits and prevent environmental troubles. She filed a bill which prohibits chain of stores, supermarkets, groceries, department stores and retail stores including wet and dry markets from using non-degradable plastic bags. Under the bill include penalties and suspension of business permits for continuous offenses.

The lady senator cites a report from the US Environmental Protection Agency that about 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide yearly. A near 200 different marine species die due to indigestion and dying from plastic bags from a 2005 report by the World Wildlife Fund.

"Plastic bags end up as litter as it makes its way to landfills, drainages and bodies of water, taking decades to decompose and damaging marine life when dumped into the sea. This issue of pollution is further aggravated by natural hazards, which have become unpredictable due to climate change," Senator Legarda stated.

The strong typhoon “Ondoy” in 2009 as experienced showed a clear example that plastic bags severely worsened the flooding in Metro Manila that made post-cleanup drive very difficult.

MUNTINLUPA CITY in Metro Manila also prohibited the use of plastic bags in all commercial establishments within the city. The de-clogging and cleanup drive in all drainage canals within the city is a successful drive. An alternative bag for plastic bags is being introduced in all commercial establishments in the city and nationwide.

Alternative Bag - A washable cloth bag

Environmental groups asked local government units in Metro Manila including CALABARZON ( Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon province) to help control plastic pollution and promote ecological practices and proper disposal among their constituents.

EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Greenpeace Southeast Asia made a joint statement and project following the move of the Laguna Lake Development Authority to free the country’s foremost freshwater of plastic garbage. Data submitted in 2009 stated that plastic bags make up 25% of the solid waste in polluting Laguna Lake. Progressive practices and measures such as zero waste and clean production to prevent and lessens garbage and chemical pollution has been taken up by the Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

ANTIPOLO CITY, Philippines, last year of November, business establishments are now required to follow the local government’s rule on the ban on the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam as packaging in the city. According to the ordinance, which has been propagated to the public through the city’s Public Information Office, the use and storage of Styrofoam as containers for food and other products shall now be illegal. It is aloso prohibited to use plastic bags on dry goods as first packaging materials while on wet goods, commercial establishments shall only use plastic bags as primary packaging materials only.

LEGAZPI CITY, March 1, Philippines, starting the month of June, commercial establishments across the region would be prohibited to use plastic bags, Styrofoam and other synthetic materials for goods sold to the public.

  Plastic bags ready for disposal

The Plastic Industry

The prohibition of plastic has increased the use of paper, making bigger environmental issues including the cutting of more trees, more use of water and power for its production compared to plastic. This is according to the plastic industry.

Mr. Crispian Lao, spokesman of the plastic industry said in a press conference, “A ton of paper needs to cut 17 full grown trees; none is cut for plastic. One supermarket bag consumes one gallon of tap water, which is all needed to produce 116 plastic bags. Paper production uses five times more energy than a comparable plastic bag.”

The group of plastic industry is asking for a scientific and reasonable approach to plastic, which they said demonized to the point that people now wrongly and misguidedly believe that paper is friendlier to the environment.  

Mr. Lao explained that it is not. This is the reason why developed countries are taking a balanced approached. People and consumers are given a choice between plastic and paper because the two are needed having their pros and cons.

Lao’s group philosophically stated that plastic ban is not the solution to flooding. The floods brought by the tropical storm, “Ondoy”, “Sendong” and others were caused not by plastic but mainly by global warming which generated more violent untimely typhoons. Even assuming that plastic bags and products were to be blamed for floods and blockage of canals, the solution is not a ban on plastic but in changing of people’s way of disposing waste. Discipline to wastes disposal is the key. With the banning of plastic products, the local governments are in effect making global warming worse because additional paper consumption means fewer trees and therefore more carbon dioxide in the air, less water to use and more power to generate which produces more greenhouse gas.

Choose, plastic bags or paper bags?

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Comments (23)

Excellently presented information on a vital subject.Thank you.

Facebooked and voted up my friend.

Thanks Sir for these valuable information.

Undeniably, papers are very friendly to the environment. However, plastics can be more practical in more applications than paper.

Great discussion, Ron.

I always try to use my own bags from home - reused many many times.

It's definitely a Castch 22. I use my own fabric bags and wash them out frequently for shopping.

Excellent information about this topic.

A very well written article hermano on a very difficult problem to resolve. However, at least, your government is making serious attempts toward bringing relief and restoration to the habitat. Thank you.

Another provocative topic concernning our environment Ron.

very interesting discussion.Thanks.

Thank you guys for the comments and support.

An excellent question and a great writeup. I especially like your suggestion of a cloth bag alternative. Voted.

Thanks Graciela.

I saw this topic as a feature on the telly, it was only now that it occured to me what it really meant. Thanks a lot!

Very informative post. Thank you Ron.

Thank for the thoughts and support my friends-appreciated.

The answer to your question is "neither." As you and others pointed out, reusable cloth bags are friendlier to the environment than either paper or plastic bags. In the US we can take plastic bags back to the store for recycling. That helps only a little, as most people don't bother. "Compostable" plastic bags won't break down in anything but industrial composting plants, so they're no solution, either. Thanks for the details you provide about how paper bags are not environmentally friendly. Well done.

Thank you David.

Excellent piece, I am all for geting rid of plastic and using eco-friendly cloth shopping bags..voted

I prefer paper instead of plastic.  Great write Sir...

This well-written article was objective and informative. Thank you.

I agree that paper is more friendly. Plastic bags can last 400 years...Great post, dear Ron.