My Cart

Better Environment Paper Plastic

Which is Better for the Environment? Paper or Plastic?

Reusable plastic bags cost a lot. Yet paper bags are not cheap either. There is a misconception thinking paper is always better than plastic and that we should limit plastic usage at all cost.

Reducing plastic usage is a good thing. This is a top environmental concern. But as paper bags rise in popularity, plastic is always seen as a more durable material. So which is better for the environment? Paper or plastic?

Is paper more environmentally friendly than plastic?

Thinking paper is organic so it must be eco-friendly is wrong. We have to take into consideration how much energy and resources was used during manufacturing. And how durable is the final product? Is it reusable at all? It is easy to recycle? Is it biodegradable? The answer is not as easy as you think.

Sometimes it does take more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag. Paper requires trees to be cut down massively. And making paper is not possible without use of chemicals. Paper weight more than plastic and consumes more energy to transport.

All of this adds to the impact of paper production on the environment. It adds to its carbon footprint. When picking products, especially bags and other packaging, it is important to make sure the paper was 100% sourced from forests that are managed responsibly.

Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label. It is an an international non-profit organization established in 1993 who promotes responsible management of the world's forests. The FSC forest management certification confirms that the forest is being managed in a way that preserves biological diversity and benefits the lives of local people and workers.

How Environmentally Friendly is Plastic?

It is true. Paper decomposes much more quickly than common plastic and is also more widely recyclable. On the other hand, paper is much less durable and some paper bags may not be reusable at all.

If you replace your paper bags more frequently, it has a greater impact on the environment. There is not a simple answer on whether paper or plastic is better for the environment. They both have upsides and downsides.

Paper typically creates more greenhouse gas emissions and requires more energy to produce. The production of paper bags uses three times the amount of water it takes to make plastic bags. But the major problem of plastic is litter. Only a small portion of Polyethylene plastic is ever recycled. Most plastic bags end up in landfills. There they may take up to 1,000 years to decompose.

Even worse, some plastic ends up in the wild, in the ocean threatening wildlife. Littered plastic bags are everywhere today. Plastic waste is deceptive for birds and other wildlife, who mistake it for food, and die from starvation.

But climate change has become the biggest environmental issue of our time. Knowing that it takes significantly more energy to create paper than to make plastic from oil, it is difficult to come up with the best choice whether to shop paper or plastic.

A paper bag must be used at least three times before its environmental impact equaled that of a high-density polyethylene plastic bag used only once. And plastic bags can even be reused repeatedly. Plastic is highly recyclable and there are plastic recyclers everywhere.

The Case for Better Plastic: Biodegradable and Biobased

Not all plastics are made from oil. Not all plastics are bad. Usually plastic starts as crude oil, natural gas or other petrochemical derivatives. It is then transformed into chains of hydrogen and carbon molecules known as polymers or polymer resin. Many plastics have now a degradable additive to help them break down quicker.

And bioplastics are now a thing. Also known as biobased plastic made from plant or other biological material. Plastic materials can be produced from renewable biomass sources such as food waste, corn starch, straw, woodchips, vegetable fats and oils. Bio-based plastics have benefits.

But not all bioplastics are biodegradable. Many requires intense heat to degrade in a meaningful timeframe. If they end up in the ocean instead of landfills, they break down into very small pieces and last for decades while endangering marine life.

Plastic made from petroleum or plants like corn is the cheapest material for packaging. Lightweight, low water, low energy, low carbon footprint. We still have to find and spread alternatives that are marine degradable, that also preserve land and ecosystems.

About the Author: Alex Assoune

Alex Assoune Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks four languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.


More, More, More

Related Articles

thrift clothes

Instagram Thrift Accounts Helping Sustainable Fashion

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, many young shoppers used to visit clothing stores now shop online on their phones. Instagram thrift accounts raise awareness about sustainable fashion... Read More

Is Polyester Cooler Than Cotton in Summer

Cotton and polyester are completely different fabrics and widely used for clothing. With summer approaching, which one should you wear to stay cool and avoid sweating? Cotton is a lot... Read More
summer clothes
Great Lakes Thrift Store Opens up on Kalamazoo Mall

Great Lakes Thrift Store Opens up on Kalamazoo Mall

A new vintage clothing store Great Lakes Thrift is opening up on the Kalamazoo Mall in southern Michigan. It offers a great selection of T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, and accessories for... Read More

10 Essential Thoughts to Buy Better Fashion in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has a huge negative impact on the economy, jobs, and livelihood of many people around the world. It hits the global textile and apparel industry hard with... Read More
better fashion top
pink dress

How to Check the Fabric Quality of Clothing

Before buying new clothing, you may want to check the quality of its fabric. This is an important step to ensure the clothes are high-quality and long-lasting. In the long... Read More

EU Green Recovery Plan in the Textile, Apparel, and Footwear Industry

The Policy Hub just published a proposal to lead the apparel and footwear industry towards a green recovery post-COVID-19 crisis. Titled "Proposal for an EU Green Recovery Plan in the... Read More
green fashion
What Are The Most Eco-Friendly Textiles For Clothing

What Are The Most Eco-Friendly Textiles For Clothing

Eco-friendly fashion is much more than a trend. It's a revolution. The sustainable fashion movement is growing and one of the largest force driving changes in the textile and apparel... Read More

Ethical Fashion Podcast by the Ethical Fashion Initiative

The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) is launching a brand new podcast on sustainability in the fashion industry. Called “Ethical Fashion”, it aims to demonstrate how fashion can be a force... Read More
ethical fashion podcast
rayon pollution waste landfill

How Long Does Rayon Take to Biodegrade

Rayon is one of the most common fabrics used in the fashion world, alongside cotton and polyester. It's a semi-synthetic fabric or man-made cellulosic fiber. There are many different types... Read More

Redress Gets New Headquarters in Hong Kong

Environmental NGO Redress working to reduce waste in the fashion industry just moved into a new headquarter in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong. Sham Shui Po is an area of... Read More
hong kong


Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing