Understand Plastic Bags and Their Environmental Impact this Earth Day

16 Apr 2013

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It is easy to overlook the advantages of plastic grocery bags because it is perceived that they are environmentally unfriendly. While they certainly have ecological drawbacks, plastic grocery bags can actually be beneficial to the environment. Every April we celebrate Earth Day. For Earth Day this year, we would like consumers and business to understand the real environmental impacts of plastic bags vs paper bags.
The reasoning for banning plastic bags is that they cause harm to the environment. There are many factors that this broad statement can cover, so let’s discuss it part by part.

In terms of energy produced during manufacture, plastic bags require 182,361 kcal but recover “2,581.3 through combustion.”

However, paper bags require “three times as much energy consumption as plastic bags (626,672.9 kcal), whereas only 6,859.5 kcal can be recovered through consumption.”

Environmental Impact of Plastic Grocery Bags
There has been a lot of conversation and disagreement regarding paper and plastic bags, and which are more detrimental to the environment. The truth is, each has advantages and disadvantages.


There are several important ecological advantages of plastic grocery bags over paper shopping bags. Because they weigh so much less, they contribute far less solid waste to landfills when not recycled. According to the EPA, paper bag production requires 40% more energy than the production of plastic bags. Paper bag manufacturing also results in 50% more water pollution and 70% more air pollution than plastic bag manufacturing.


The main ecological disadvantage of plastic shopping bags is that they are manufactured from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. Paper bags, on the other hand, are made from trees, a renewable resource. Plastic bags are also not biodegradable, and break down into contaminating particles over many hundreds of years.

Effect on Marine Life Myth

One of the more compelling arguments against the use of plastic shopping bags is that plastic bags result in the death of 100,000 marine animals and 1 million sea birds annually.

However, this argument is false. The myth originated from a 2002 study on plastic bags commissioned by the Australian government. In the report, the authors misquoted a previous Canadian study from 1987. The animal deaths cited were actually attributable to fishing lines and nets, not plastic bags.


The best way to help the environment, regardless of what types of bags or other containers you use it to reuse your plastic bags as much as possible. Recycle the rest.

By recycling, consumers can avoid many of the drawbacks of plastic bags. There are numerous advantages of plastic grocery bags, and by recycling them diligently, consumers can profit from their use in a more environmentally sustainable manner.

For more information on plastic bags or on recyclable plastic bags, contact Atlantic Poly.

Statistics from greenliving.lovetoknow.com