Beyond Paper Or Plastic: The Importance Of Reusable Shopping Bags

Arguments around whether or not to ban plastic bags usually result in a false dichotomy of the pros and cons between paper and plastic. Instead, is proposing an answer that is all too often overlooked, despite its ability to massively reduce environmental impact – in both the production and waste phases: reusable bags.

So, which is worse – paper or plastic? Both. Which should we get rid of? Both. Well, what if you recycle? Still both; only 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled each year – even if the number of bags that were recycled quadrupled, the amount of bags littered into the environment annually would still be exponentially higher than the earth and wildlife can support.

Paper bags are harmful to the environment because of what it takes to make them: logging (which often involves clear-cutting) and processing the collected wood uses hundreds of gallons of water and chemicals and can irreparably damage ecosystemic balance in the area. Moreover, trees are detrimental in mitigating pollution and symptoms of ever-increasing climate change.

Plastic bags are harmful before and after production because of their ingredients. To produce plastic bags, oil (more specifically, polyethylene) is a key component. This perpetuates the United States’ dependency on foreign oil, not to mention further pollutes the air. But plastic bags aren’t only harmful on the production side of things – it takes about one thousand years to break down bags made from polyethylene. And that’s often the best case scenario, considering that many of these bags end up in the ocean, causing the death of approximately 1 billion seabirds and mammals each year from ingestion of plastic bags..

So, how do we break out of the circular argument of paper vs. plastic? Buy a reusable bag! If you look hard enough, you can still find articles that talk about how reusable or biodegradable bags are either just as harmful or don’t work as well as you’d think. Instead, you can buy cotton, mesh, or canvas bags – not the cheaply made plastic reusable bags that are made in other countries and then shipped (hi, transportation pollution) to the U.S. Buy a reusable bag and then use it. Every. Time. You go to the store. We are waaaay past the point of it ‘probably being a good idea to make little changes in one’s life’ to curb the climate crisis we are facing. Each one of us is an integral member of a global society and the planet. It’s your responsibility and my responsibility – not one or the other. Sustainability is something we can all get behind.


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