Paper vs. Plastic?

While some people may feel morally superior for choosing one over the other, the truth is they're both bad (for good summaries of the debate, see The Huffington Post or MSNBC). Paper has a high cost to produce and to recycle, but is biodegradable, that is, if it ever sees the light of day in a landfill. Plastic has a much lower energy cost to produce and to recycle, but the fact that it will be here long after we're gone makes it pretty evil as well.

Simple, solution, right? Reusable bags...

Pretty much every store sells their own version of reusable bags and most of them have discounts for every bag you bring in to use. Done, right?

As most of us in the real world know, it's not as easy as it looks. How many times do you make an impromptu trip to the store without bags in hand? It happens to all of us, don't worry. Fight the urge to buy a new reusable bag every time this happens - if you buy one, not only will your house be littered with them, but you might not actually being doing the planet any good.

Never fear, with practice, many of us have learned to remember to take a reusable bag to the store with us. You might solve this problem by always having a few in your purse or in your car. I use neither purse nor car. Instead, I might pop by the store on my way home from work and just throw items in my backpack. I've even been known to fill all my pockets rather than use paper or plastic (seriously, check out how I transported a few bottles of wine home after a recent jog).

What's next? Reusable [fill in the blank]?

The thing is, it's not just the packaging that we use to transport our products from the store to our homes that adds up - it's also the packaging the food comes in at the store (and, no surprise, the bigger culprit is fast food packaging). Think about your last trip to the store. Aside from some of the fruits and vegetables in the produce department, the vast majority of food comes in plastic, paper, aluminum, glass, or other types of packaging. This adds up - according to the Clean Air Council, "Almost 1/3 of the waste generated in the U.S. is packaging."

Sure, recycling is good, but putting our recycling out on the curb many times only serves to assuage our guilt. Some of it falls out of the bins and ends up littering the streets. Some of it gets mixed in with the garbage. And sometimes, there's just no demand for a particular plastic, and it ends up in the landfill anyway.

Therefore, just as it's better to reuse bags than to use paper or plastic, the same is true for all the containers food comes in. Don't give up recycling, but whenever possible, try to find ways to reuse.

See all posts included in the Reusable topic.

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1 comment:

  1. It is indeed a very good idea to reuse, reduce and recycle. Not only will it give us more savings, it will also help our environment maintain its cleanliness. Disposable plastic can never be decomposed therefore it is imperative to use papers and biodegradable plastic bags.