Last week, we weighed in on the Paper vs. Plastic Debate, and examined the pros and cons of each where waste, energy, and resources are concerned. This week, we’ll take a look at how the contenders fare when it comes to pollution and recycling.
Myth #3: Plastic is man-made and chemical-based, so it’s better to choose paper.
When it comes to pollution, plastic has become the chosen whipping boy, but in fact, craft paper production requires huge amounts of chemicals, that end up in our rivers each year, and are released into the air contributing to air pollution. Plastic production generates about 60% fewer greenhouse gases than turning wood pulp into paper bags.
Let’s consider PLA. It’s been touted as a panacea for the plastic problem, because it’s compostable, and comes from a renewable resource. But upon closer examination, unless the corn crop is grown organically, it still requires fossil fuel-based fertilizers and chemicals that cause other environmental problems and does not reduce our dependency on oil. In fact, one study found that the production of corn- and other bio-based plastics actually use more fossil fuels than a standard PET plastic. PLA isn’t as eco-friendly as it seems.
When it comes to waste and pollution, the frontrunner so far is the bag made from biodegradable plastic.
Myth #4: It’s easier to recycle paper, so it’s the more sustainable choice.
In reality, it is more efficient to recycle plastic, requiring about 91% less energy pound for pound than paper, but the sad truth is that the recycling track record for either bag isn’t good. Only about 10-15% of paper bags, and just 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled; although paper bags have a higher recycle rate than plastic, every new paper bag is made from virgin pulp instead of recycled fibers for better strength, while many plastic bags are made from once-recycled plastic polymers.
PLA and other bio-plastics get another strike when it comes to recyclability. They cannot be recycled with regular plastics, but so often are, creating an expensive problem of having to sort them from the rest of the plastics.
Plastics that are biodegradable in the landfill and under natural conditions, like ENSO’s products, are recyclable with conventional plastics, and do not contaminate the recycling stream.
The Bottom Line
Choosing paper or plastic is still a tough decision because biodegradable plastics are not yet mainstream. The biodegradable disposable bag is the best solution because it can be recycled if that’s an option, or thrown into the landfill where it will biodegrade in a relatively short amount of time. In addition, the industry is moving toward renewable sources, like algae, for plastic production, improving biodegradable plastics even further. For now, bring your reusable bags, or choose a plastic bag and reuse it or recycle it, and keep up with latest developments on the biodegradable plastics front.