Paper Bags Are Less Environmentally Friendly than Plastic Bags

Supposedly, littered bags wreak havoc on environmentally sensitive areas where they get caught in rivers and entangle birds and fish. But if the ban had gone through, the cure might have been worse than the disease: According to the EPA, paper bags discharge significantly more water and air pollutants than plastic.

Of course, plastic is derived from a non-renewable resource—oil. But it's misleading to claim that their use constitutes a crisis. All of America's annual 100 billion plastic bags are made from 12 million barrels of oil—0.15 percent of the U.S.'s total yearly oil consumption. And a Waste Characterization Study for California in 2004 concluded that the bags account for just 0.4 percent of the total content of landfills.

Copyright 2007 Bob Englehart, The Hartford Courant, and PoliticalCartoons.com.

Yet some proponents of anti-plastic measures seem misinformed. "Any environmentalist would argue when push comes to shove, paper is better for the environment than plastic," says Maria Blanchard, Press Secretary to Massachusetts State Senator Brian Joyce, who wants to introduce a statewide tax on plastic bags in his home state. The senator's office needs to check its facts: According to ReusableBags. com, an organization founded to promote the use of canvas sacks, plastic bags take four times less energy to produce and 91 percent less energy to recycle than paper, and Professor Bill Rathje, director of The Garbage Project, says they are at least three times less voluminous, requiring fewer gas-guzzling trucks to move them around and taking up less space in landfills.

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