Environmental Laboratory

Are Paper Bags Better Than Plastic?

Jan 15 2018 Read 1945 Times

In a major speech about the environment UK Prime Minister Theresa May made promises to extend the 5p levy on plastic bags in smaller shops. This was amongst other initiatives to make supermarkets introduce plastic free aisles. But with the focus moving away from plastic, we still need to consider the impact of the alternative materials. So, with government calls to cut down our plastic use, can we really say that paper bags are any better?

Plastic, not fantastic

In 2014 there was an estimated 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags given out free of charge to customers of major supermarkets. But, since the government introduced laws requiring large shops in England to charge 5p for plastic carrier bags, the number has decreased by 80%.

The horrors of the overuse of plastic bags are ones we cannot ignore - damaging the environment, overrunning beautiful British beaches and endangering the wonderful wildlife.

That’s why it so important to find alternative ways to bag up the weekly shop. Environment Secretary Michael Gove agrees saying he wants to tackle British ‘throwaway culture’. Public emphasis is on reuse and recycle. But, what about the other bags we use and abuse?

Is paper the solution?

The fight against plastic has meant paper bags reign supreme across British shops and they do offer some positives. As paper bags are highly recyclable and bio-degradable they make fantastic compost for industrial purposes and even the everyday gardener.

But, paper bags aren’t that much better when it comes to the environment. They still place increasing pressure of landfills and land space. They have a greater mass and when paper bags are disposed on landfills they release methane as they degrade.

Paper bags also require a lot more energy to make and transport. Plus, paper reuse potential is diminished, especially in the rainy climate of British highstreets. On top of all that, did you know paper bag manufacturers use 20 times as much water as plastic production?

Reuse is the key

Other alternatives, such as cloth bags come with their own set of problems too, especially if they are disposed on landfills. But people are more likely to reuse cloth bags more than any other – and so they offer a better approach to our shopping needs. All in all, the key to helping the environment is to curb our spending habits and be strict about reusing all the bags we have stored under the sink.

Finding new solutions for things like packaging and carrier bags requires us to identify and analyse emerging substances. The article ‘Do You Know NORMAN’ looks at a network of laboratories and research centres set up to do just that.

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