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Paper or plastic—are either good for the environment?Many people believe Carrier Bags are more eco-friendly than plastic. The truth is theyboth impact the environment in negative ways.In order for paper bags to be created, many trees must be used. Cutting down all ofthese trees results in habitat destruction and long-term ecological damage. It takes acentury for the forests to rebuild. Not only that, but the machinery used to cut andtransport the trees uses fossil fuels which emit pollutants into the air.After transporting the trees, they must allow them to dry for three years before they canbe used. Once properly dried, more machinery is used to strip the bark from the trees,cut them into small pieces, and cook them under extreme heat and pressure. Next, amixture of limestone and acid is used to digest the wood into pulp. After this procedureis done, thousands of gallons of water are used to wash and bleach the pulp. Now, thepulp is ready to be run under more water and rolled into paper. The paper bag is nowmade, and being transported to stores all over the world. Of course this process takesmore fossil fuel. Did I mention the electricity, water waste, and chemicals it takes tomake the bag?After the bag is used, there are a few things that can be done. It can go to the landfill, itcan be recycled, or if it has little to no ink, it can be composted. If the bag is composted,it will break down and become a rich soil nutrient over a period of a few months; if thebag is sent to the landfill, it will take years to break down; or it can be recycled, but thereis another process to that. In order to recycle paper bags, the paper will first be re-pulped. This involves a chemical process using bleach and other compounds toseparate the fibers. Next it is washed to be sure there is no leftover ink, then it ispressed and rolled into paper in the same fashion it was before.On the other hand, Shopping Bags are generally made from oil. The plants that createplastic bags use enough electricity to heat the oil to about 750 degrees Fahrenheit,
where it is separated and molded into polymers. Most plastic bags come frompolyethylene.Recycling plastic is more complex than recycling paper. Recycling plastic involvesmelting it down and attempting to make new bags out of the same plastic. The problemwith this is, the quality of the bags suffer. Recycling plastic results in a lower qualityproduct because breaking down the plastic causes the polymers to lose strength. Somecall this process “down-cycling” rather than “recycling”. The upside to plastic recycling isthat it uses only two-thirds of the energy it required to create the original product. It istrue that some plastic bags are marked as biodegradable, and they say the bags can becomposted. The problem is, they take many years to break down in a landfill, and theynever completely break down. They break down into tiny little pieces, which is not thebest thing to help our environment.It seems the process of creating and recycling retail shopping bags, whether paper orplastic, have negative effects on the environment. Are you concerned and want to helpsave the environment? Then next time you are faced with the famous question, “Wouldyou like paper or plastic?” Reply with, “Neither.” Make a trip to your local health food ororganic food store and purchase a reusable shopping bag. These bags can be usednumerous times, are typically made from used grain sacks or hemp, and are the onlytruly eco-friendly shopping bags.