Steps to a Smaller Carbon Footprint: Paper or Plastic?

Posted on February 21, 2011


Between paper and plastic, it seems natural to assume that paper bags are better than plastic ones, but is paper really the greener choice? Here are some quick facts…

Facts about Plastic bags:

  • 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed every year.
  • Only 1% of those are recycled, the rest end up in a landfill.
  • Plastic bags are made from polyethylene which takes 1000 years to break down.
  • About 12 million barrels of oil is used every year to manufacture them.
  • 5% of the debris found along US coasts is made up of plastic bags.
  • Thousands of marine animals and millions of birds die each year due to Plastic Pollution.

Facts about Paper bags:

  • Paper comes from trees – and lots of them. About 14 million trees are cut down each year for this.
  • The productions of one paper bag consumes 1 gallon of water – 50 times that of a plastic bag.
  • The production of paper bags creates 50% more water pollutants and 70% more air pollutants than the production of plastic bags.
  • Paper bag production needs 4 times the energy than plastic bag production.
  • Paper requires 98% more energy to recycle than plastic.
  • Less than 15% of paper bags are actually recycled after use.

So which is more environment friendly – paper or plastic? In my opinion, neither. Both of them require a lot of resources and energy to manufacture, transport and recycle – and the majority of them end up in the landfill. Recyclable/reusable shopping bags, like the ones here, are probably our best option.

Every bag counts. Switch to using a canvas shopping bag and reduce your carbon footprint. Happy Shopping!

Resources: treehugger,, EnviroSax
Author: Mansi Gandhi