Saving the world with paper or plastic?

Cecil gives various arguments on both sides of the infamous “Paper or Plastic?” question, mentioning also that “Cloth” isn’t always the most convenient answer either. (Referring to the reusable canvas bags with which we are supposed to save the Earth these days.)

He doesn’t mention – and I’ve never seen anyone else mention either – that we can even more easily save the Earth by re-using those big brown paper grocery bags. Here is how I have been contributing to the salvation of the Earth:

(1) I collected a dozen or so of those paper bags. As per the stores’ requests, I don’t double them. But once I get them home, they are MINE to double as I please, which I do. Then I re-use them. Although I haven’t done any detailed scientific comparison, I’m pretty sure that a thusly doubled paper bag will last more than twice as long as a single bag. I get anywhere from ten to 30 re-uses of each doubled bag before they start falling apart.

(2) More recently (last year or so) I’ve switched back to using plastic bags, for a specific semi-Earth-saving (and money-saving) reason: They are just right to use as waste-basket liners. I think these are more ecological than the usual commercially available liners, being lighter and thinner as they are. Here in California, plastic bags supposedly became illegal last July, but that moratorium has been delayed, so they are still available.

So, when I first read that they would disappear (about a year before the original July deadline), I began collecting and hoarding them, with the intention of collecting a lifetime supply to use as waste-basket liners. I’m still collecting them. But as soon as plastic bags disappear, I’ll go back to using paper bags as described in (1).

Forget canvas bags. They are awkward to use, largely because they won’t stand upright while one tries to load stuff into them. And, as Cecil implies, you would need a bunch of them for a typical shopping expedition. When humans evolve to have three or more arms and hands (as shown here in the figure on the right), this will work better.

I use plastic for waste-can liners.

I use brown paper (doubled) as well, until they start to fall apart, when they get another life as cage liners for the parrots. After they’re done with them it’s off to the compost heap with the mess.

I use canvas bags, too.

I’m an advocate of not one solution but all of them.

Good plan! Similarly, when my paper bags start falling apart, they too get one last life as wastebasket liners.

I too like to be eclectic and use all solutions that are reasonably practical but I don’t generally do some of the really heroic things that some Earth-savers talk about. Re-using things before finally dumping or recycling them is typically one of the easier and most practical ways to go about Earth-saving!

I have always used shopping bags as trash can liners. Extra bags go to the thrift store my church supports; in fact, I took some to them earlier today. :slight_smile:

Plastic bags that aren’t suitable for this purpose go into another bag that ends up at the animal shelter, where they use them for animal waste.

This for us as well. Except for the parrots part. But we reuse plastic bags all the time, and have various tote bags in the car for every grocery visit save the big re-stock trips.

I find my plastic bags very often have holes in the bottom, making them unsuitable for trashcan-lining. They’re also highly unaesthetic for that purpose.

Reusable grocery bags usually stand up as easily as paper does (that’s rather their point, after all); I’m curious what type of canvas bag would not.
Powers &8^]

My plastic bags mostly have holes in them too, but that doesn’t stop me from using them as wastebasket liners. I never put “wet” garbage there – that all goes into a plastic bag that I keep in the freezer. (I use empty bread bags for that.) My wastebaskets are for dry garbage only – papers, envelopes, most food packaging, anything else that won’t rot and smell up and attract bugs. So, for stuff like that, little holes in the bottom of the bag don’t matter.

I’ve got a couple of canvas grocery bags, but I always thought they were rather floppy.

Back 15 years ago when the column ran the argument that paper bags won’t decompose in landfills was good, but today we have compost cans we can put them in.
I use plastic bags for trash can liners and for dog poop bags, but most people got more or them than they can ever use.
I have enough cloth bags to handle even the biggest shopping trip without putting too much stuff in each one. They are the best solution by far.

ETA - I can handle little holes in bags for trash can liners. For poop bags, no.

We reuse our paper bags as throw away containers for our recycling. So our trash goes into the big container with the big bag and the recycling goes into the brown grocery sack.

I guess everyone knows plastic bags, and all plastic… is made from oil/petroleum, right? I’m not making a comment, just adding information.

A partial list of products made from Petroleum (144 of 6000 items)

Some notable items:

Ink
Speakers
PVC pipes
Tires
Dyes
Linoleum
CD’s & DVD’s
Aspirin
Paint Brushes
Dishes

a random sample of 10… out of 6000

Several studies have discovered that when grocery stores stopped handing out plastic bags, consumers buy plastic bags to replace them. Plus, biodegradable paper doesn’t biodegrade in most landfills.

I use plastic folding bins for groceries. Store nicely in the trunk of my car, easy to pack groceries in at the register, move to my trunk, and take into the house. However, I sometimes use plastic bags to get enough to use for household trash.

Sounds nifty. Are they convenient to schlep around in the store while you shop? I’ve never seen nor heard of these.

(I’ve been using plastic bags almost exclusively for some time now. As I mentioned above, they are going to go away in California – sometime – so I’ve been busily collecting and hoarding to accumulate a lifetime supply to use as wastebasket liners.) Otherwise, I collect a few paper bags and re-use them about 10 to 20 times.

I also reuse the paper bags and use(d) the plastic bags for garbage.

I did stock up on the plastic bags. But small trash bags aren’t that expensive. And if you really like the t-shirt bags, at Amazon they’re very cheap if you buy a large quantity.

Really? Because my town has banned plastic bags for some time, and I’ve never seen anyone bring their own to the grocery. People either buy paper bags, or, most often, bring cloth bags. I’ve never seen a reusable plastic bag, though that would certainly work.

Paper bags my not degrade in the landfill, but they will degrade in the compost.

I started using reusable bags, first a couple Kroger bags (plastic, of course, but reusable plastic), then a couple other bags of different types. Keep them in the trunk of the car, not too inconvenient when I go shopping to pull them out and carry them in. Just have to remember to put them back in the trunk after carrying in the groceries, and get used to the idea of getting them from the trunk at the store.

My mom has over a dozen reusable bags. Most of them are a thin polymer (parachute pant type material) that pack very small. They are small enough they can be carried in a woman’s purse without taking up much room. My sister does that with a couple of them. Carrying in one bag stuffed with a dozen other bags is not inconvenient.

And the baggers at the counter don’t have any problems using them, either.

I will say soft bags don’t stand well on their own, and that can sometimes prove the biggest challenge to using them. But generally items in the bag will stand okay, and several bags can lean against each other. Plus, mom also has folding buckets for the trunk to help stack the groceries and support them from shifting around.

Yes, they’re convenient schlepping around in stores. I just keep them folded up in the kiddie seat of the cart, and when I get to the checkout, I unfold them and put them by the bagging area.

Word o’ warning: A crate full of groceries is heavier than a single bag full of groceries. After all, instead of having a half dozen bags, I now have a single crate. If you can’t lift more than a bag of groceries at a time, the crates might not work for you.

The baskets are by a company called CleverMade. I see they also have collapsible folding grocery bags too.

This thread reminds me of something that came up a few yeas ago: reusable plastic is the best option.

Unfortunately that was just a media report and left out a number of significant factors in how they came to their conclusion. It doesn’t say, for example, how many uses they assume that the various bags get. This could make a big difference in their results.

I don’t know how many uses a reusable plastic bag usually gets, because I’ve never had one. I have a cloth bag I bought somewhere around 1988 that I’ve been using ever since. I suspect that my extensive use of it is greener than multiple reusable plastics. Certainly continuing to use it is greener than buying a reusable plastic.

We like the Aldi “canvas” reusable bags. Got a dozen or so of them. We try to keep some in the trunk for shopping even other than Aldi. They also get use as laundry totes or road trip “ooh, almost forgot this stuff” bags. :slight_smile: Yes, we wash them all the time.

Haven’t seen true paper bags in ages, but I much preferred those to plastic (except for “wet” stuff).

The amount of oil that it takes to make a thin plastic single-use grocery bag is negligible. A shortage of oil is not the problem. The problem is discarded light-weight bags blowing in the wind and ending up in streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean. That’s not a problem with paper bags.

Bags don’t break down easily in a landfill but that’s a criticism of the landfill, not the bags. But at least we can be glad that those bags aren’t floating into the ocean.

FWIW, I rarely use grocery bags at all. I ride my bike to the grocery store, put six or seven items into my cart, pay for them, transfer the items to my bicycle basket, ride home, then carry the items into my house. I don’t need a bag.