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Plastic Grocery Bags or Paper Grocery Bags?

20 Aug 2013

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Are grocery bags made other materials such as paper or compostable plastics really better for the environment than traditional plastic grocery bags? There is no conclusive evidence supporting the argument that banning single use plastic bags in favor of paper bags will reduce litter, decrease the country’s dependence on oil, or lower the quantities of solid waste going to landfills. In addition, there is limited information on the environmental attributes of compostable plastics and how they fare against traditional plastic grocery bags or paper bags.

So, in order to glean information on the environmental impacts of grocery bags, the Progressive Bag Alliance contracted with Boustead Consulting & Associates (BCAL) to conduct a life cycle assessment on three types of grocery bags:

  • a traditional grocery bag made from polyethylene,
  • a grocery bag made from compostable plastics (a blend of 65% EcoFlex, 10% polylactic acid or PLA, and 25% calcium carbonate),
  • and a paper grocery bag made using at least 30% recycled fibers.

The life cycle assessment factored in every step of the manufacturing, distribution, and disposal stages of these grocery bags.

The results show that single use plastic bags made from polyethylene have many advantages over both compostable plastic bags and paper bags made with a minimum of 30% recycled fiber.

When compared to 30% recycled fiber paper bags, polyethylene grocery bags use less energy in terms of fuels for manufacturing, less oil, and less potable water. In addition, polyethylene plastic grocery bags emit fewer global warming gases, less acid rain emissions, and less solid wastes. The same exists when comparing the typical polyethylene grocery bag to grocery bags made with compostable plastic resins— traditional plastic grocery bags use less energy in terms of fuels for manufacturing, less oil, and less potable water, and emit fewer global warming gases, less acid rain emissions, and less solid wastes.

The findings of this study were peer reviewed by an independent third party to ensure that the results are reliable and repeatable. The results support the conclusion that any decision to ban traditional polyethylene plastic grocery bags in favor of bags made from alternative materials will result in a significant increase in environmental impacts across a number of categories from global warming effects to the use of precious potable water resources. As a result, consumers should re-evaluate decisions to use or ban traditional plastic grocery bags, as the unintended consequences can be significant and long-lasting.

For more information on plastic grocery bags, contact Atlantic Poly, a plastic bag and products company in MA.

Information - http://static.reuseit.com/PDFs/Boustead%20Associates.pdf