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Monday, October 29, 2018

Paper vs. Plastic.

The dilemma of our time. We are standing in line at the market, with our fresh organic produce. And we need to decide paper or plastic. About a decade ago I did some research. Here is what I found.

I found that they were about the same. That while plastic is made from oil, it biodegrades pretty quickly, and that paper, while killing trees to make them, the trees are harvested specifically for that purpose -- it's not like they are cutting down virgin forests for them - and the too are designed to biodegrade pretty quickly.

Proof that you can find data to support anything you want, I just found out that all of this is wrong. This started for me in a small privately owned market down the street. This place was transformed a few years ago, it was a dingy 1950's supermarket that had grey meat and dusty canned goods. It still looks like it could use a new floors and fixtures, but they got smart. They lined an entire wall with open front refrigerators and filled them with craft beer. It is now the go to place for the local students. My town has a large university and five colleges. The bulk of our residents are students, faculty and administrators. They now do very well and have a good selection of produce, and a handful of other things. It is a great place when you realize you are out of dog food on a Sunday night at 8:00, and really just want to run in and run out. So I heard the young woman at the register - tattoos, face piercings, blue hair, talking with a customer buying a six of craft beer that she thought it was about the same, paper or plastic. I decided to go home and check my research. I was wrong. way wrong.

Yes, the paper for bags is from carefully controlled and harvested trees. They are left un-dyed so when they biodegrade they don't pollute. But here is the problem. First, they take up a lot of space in the landfills. Second, they take thousands of years to biodegrade, because they are packed so tightly into a landfill, they don't get any oxygen. Which is needed for them to break down. It also takes a lot of water, and power to make them, so they are impacting the environment that way. Though it should be stated that more people recycle their paper bags than plastic. which usually ends up in the garbage.

On the other hand, plastic bags were designed in the 1970's to replace the environmental impact of paper bags. They take very little power, and no water to produce. They are made out of ethane which is a by product of natural gas production. It is usually just burned off, but they figured out a way to make bags out of it. Plastic bags weigh nothing, and they are made to biodegrade very quickly, even in a landfill. They really are brilliant engineering.

So if you have those two choices, plastic is by far the winner.

But you don't have just those two choices do you? No, you have a third. Frankly, I think if you want a bag at a store you should have to pay for it. This would be the single biggest thing we could do to minimize their use. Well, maybe the second biggest thing, we could make them illegal like California.

No, what you should be doing is keeping a reusable bag or two in your car. Let's just eliminate the problem completely. I bought a couple of bags, for each of our cars. They cost me about $5 a piece. Sometimes I forget to grab them, but I have drastically reduced the amount of plastic I use. You can do this too. Give it a shot.