The great debate: paper or plastic? Which option is the most environmentally friendly or should both options be nixed in favor of reusable bags? Plastic bags first came into use in the 1970s. They were supposed to be a better ecological alternative to paper bags thinking that the use of plastic over paper would save trees as well as reduce the use of the fossil fuel guzzling machines used to harvest trees, reduce the use of chemicals used to make paper products, and reduce water usage, since making tree pulp into paper requires about 400 parts water to 1 part tree pulp. A big con to plastic bags is recycling. Many plastic bags end up in landfills and take up to 20 years to decompose compared to the month it takes for a paper bag to decompose. But, like paper bags, plastic bags can be recycled as well. When properly recycled plastic bags can be made into products like TREX Decking, which is made of 95% recycled materials. Another con is the materials used to make plastic which includes crude oil.
So what about reusable bags? In the long run this is the most environmentally sustainable option. The only cons with reusable bags that I could find were that people sometimes forget them at home and the major issue, bacteria. The issue of bacteria growth can be easily solved by making sure that reusable bags are cleaned frequently.
So the answer to the question paper or plastic? Well neither. In the long run neither paper nor plastic bags are particularly environmentally friendly. Reusable bags are by far the most environmentally friendly.