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Paper or Plastic?

2009 July 28

One day in my Global Environmental Issues class, a professor showed us a video on the floating island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean, commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I never knew the trouble that the convenient plastic bag could cause. On that day I decided to make a change in my life to reduce my contribution to the garbage patch and my carbon footprint in general. I wanted to do something productive to make a difference. I decided to stop using plastic bags. It may be a small step but at least it’s a step in the right direction. By switching to reusable bags I became a little greener and much happier.

I bought my first bag on Earth Day 2007 and I haven’t looked back. Now I use that bag and the few others I have accumulated every time I buy groceries or take a trip to the mall. Being a very poor college student, I never need more than one or two reusable bags when I shop. Those few bags carry for me about the same amount approximately seven plastic bags would hold — not to mention they are foldable and fit into my purse that I carry everywhere.

Now, with my reusable bags, I am helping the planet and making my walk to the apartment with the groceries much easier. Let’s face it: Two bags are easier to manage than seven that have a tendency to rip and tear. Next time a cashier asks you; “Paper or plastic?” say, “Neither!” and pull out your reusable shopping bag instead.

About the Author: Ashley White is a current undergraduate student at Virginia Tech. She is interning with OCHPEE for the summer.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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39 Responses leave one →
  1. amy permalink
    July 28, 2009

    I use cloth bags as well most of the time. Once a month or so I need to get paper to use for garbage bags. I can’t stand the thought of plastic bags made for the SOLE PURPOSE of having trash put in them then dumped into landfills.

  2. Anand permalink
    July 28, 2009

    i just wanna say every one just try to avoid use of plastic as much as possible and help the earth not to become dumping planet….thanks

  3. Jackenson Durand permalink
    July 28, 2009

    About this Author, we understand that we must from our home first.
    For some of us who to go greener and greener for those, mess is a culture base on a long period of time but we can not stop showing others the blue Oceans and green Continents produced by nature.

  4. Keri permalink
    July 28, 2009

    I did the same! It’s such an easy adjustment, with a huge impact.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    July 28, 2009

    Many years ago, 1958-1962, my husband was in the Army and we were sent to Southern Germany, a small village near Munich.

    I soon discovered that all German ladies always carried their own ‘shopping bag’. It had handles and was made of loosely woven crochet stitches, loosely woven. Since they shopped every day, they did not need a very large bag. I soon found out that the merchants expected you to bring your own bag. It would be a great idea if something similar could take hold here in the US.
    I love to shop at Braumns for milk, bread, etc. and I love their double paper bags with the handles on them. I save those for times when visiting family and taking large/heavy items. They are great! I also hate plastic.

  6. Bonnie permalink
    July 28, 2009

    I have also bought some mesh bags to use for produce and cloth bags in place of sandwhich bags to further reduce my use of plastic bags. Really no reason to keep using so many single-use plastic bags!

  7. Vasilis permalink
    July 28, 2009

    They pretty much need to stop using paper and plastic in consumer stores. It saves the company’s money for not having to provide such provisions, and it costs very little to the consumer to buy the cloth ones. Cloth bags also last longer and carry more overall, which is definetly more convienent.

    A simple solution that is slow to catch on.

  8. shelbiee permalink
    July 28, 2009

    i use reausable bags too YAY me!!! :p

  9. Edgardo Berraz permalink
    July 28, 2009

    I think that urge for all coutries governments banned the plastic bags.It are easily replaced for bags,not only paper bags,also thread bags,because paper are trees downfalled,and this is too dangerous for enviroment.

  10. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    July 28, 2009

    I agree with you and the three previous writers. We should reduce the use of plastics as much as possible. I wohrk at the City of Mission Viejo Library and last year the city provided three reusable clohth shopping bags to all the workers. I use mine all the time. They are great and easy to handle; something else that is important to me as I have disabilities. Also, the city just started a recycling program at the complex I live at in cooperation with the Complex Association Board and the local waste hauler. Every one who lives at the complex will be getting reusable cloth bags to take their recyclables to the recycling dumpster. These bags not only have top handles but a handle on the bottom to make unloading easy. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  11. Rebecca permalink
    July 29, 2009

    I started my green journey by making my own cloth shopping bags. I recycled some old pillow shams (I get compliments on them all the time) and helped to reduce the number of plastic bags thrown into our landfill. It’s lead to many other changes including making my own laundry soap, using a clothesline and raising chickens! It’s a fun journey and every step feels so good! Best of luck.

  12. Joan permalink
    July 29, 2009

    Some stores where I live offer an incentive for those who bring their own reusable bags: the store donates 5 cents to a charity of your choice. On the way out of the store, you drop a wooden token into one of several boxes with the names of local charities printed on them.
    It’s so simple!

  13. melissaEPA permalink
    July 29, 2009

    Joan – what a neat idea – the reward going to charities – paying good deeds forward – love it.
    Two big grocery chains here in the DC area give YOU back the 5 cents per bag, right off your bill, which is also great incentive for not using their store plastic or paper grocery bags!

  14. josema permalink
    July 29, 2009

    Pues la verdad creo que el plastico es una maldicion por consiguiente el papel es la perdida y la futura destruccion de nuestro planeta a largo plazo por lo cual es una pena que las grandes potencias en la ultima reunion que tuvieron no hallan llegado a un acuerdo mas comprometedor con nuestro ecosistema porque no es un problema de uno si no de todos

  15. Amrita permalink
    July 30, 2009

    Hi !

    I use bags made of jute. Such bags are reusable.
    Highly decorative fancy jute bag are also available in the market.
    Beautiful and appealing high-fashion hand bags, made of jute have found a lot of buyers in handicrafts market. Hand bags are crafted to be used for casual or formal use.

    With Regards

  16. Eeli permalink
    July 30, 2009

    Great ideas, but how does it get done on a wider scale than just you and the conscientious commentors? Let me suggest:

    Other constructive suggestions would be welcomed.

  17. Johnny R. permalink
    July 30, 2009

    So, if everyone uses cloth bags, will the Pacific Ocean garbage patch go away? Not unless all nations establish 100% recycling of all waste and garbage – but then they couldn’t grow their economies. Oh no! But a “growing economy on a shrinking planet has no future” — from “If Saving the Earth” via Google.

  18. Andrzej C. permalink
    August 3, 2009

    I completely agree that the reuse is the key issue in protecting the environment. However, I am still intrigued by the “Paper or plastic?” question. To answer it, I followed the entire life cycle of both kinds of shopping bags at and found out, that for typical usage the PLASTIC bags are significantly more environmentally friendly that paper, mostly due to the terrible waste of water in paper production…

  19. ChaseR permalink
    August 4, 2009

    A fine should be given to anyone using a weapon of mass destruction – paper or plastic. Ultra soft and thick toilet paper,etc should be taken off the market.

  20. Ashley White permalink
    August 6, 2009

    This is a great idea! I really hate having to use plastic at all. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Ashley White permalink
    August 6, 2009

    It’s great that your city is taking a pro-active approach to this problem. It’s great to know that some politicians somewhere are trying to make their communities greener.

  22. Ashley White permalink
    August 6, 2009

    Wow! Good for you! I wish I was that crafty. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  23. Ashley White permalink
    August 6, 2009

    The same professor that I mention in the blog also told us that you can’t have an economy without an environment. I think a lot more people could stand to remember that we need the earth and we need it healthy.

  24. Ashley White permalink
    August 6, 2009

    Yeah they are both really bad for the environment. The main thing I want to get across is that reusable cloth or other similar bags are the only solution to the “paper or plastic” question. Thanks for bring up the point that paper bags are extremely harmful as well.

  25. voguehit permalink
    September 18, 2009

    I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to the environment protection. I think the reusable bags will be popular in the near future.

  26. February 16, 2010

    IKEA charges 15cents a plastic bag because they want you to bring your own bag. if only Walmart would do that….

  27. debt forgiveness permalink
    March 9, 2010

    i think paper should be used to reduce the pollution

  28. Regan permalink
    May 27, 2010

    Good Grief!! Are we not missing the point here?? Is it important to modify, reduce or eliminate, when possible, the use of plastics in our daily lives and therefore, the resulting damaging environmental impact? Of course. Jute bags versus recyclable bags…well, okay. But, in my humble opinion, the question and the cause here is what is being done to CLEAN UP THIS CATASTROPHIC DISASTER floating around in the Pacific Ocean?? And, apparently, the Atlantic as well? How is it that this was just discovered in 1997? And why didn’t we hear about it? Would have been a lot more manageable when it was, lets say, a mere 10 miles wide and 5 feet deep, yes??? Now they’re estimating it at twice the size of Texas and over 90 ft. deep?? Why are we not only not hearing much about this phenomenon and even less about why global governments and organizations are collectively trying to do about it. An oil spill is terrible, destructive, catastrophic, yes. But, to put it in perspective, oil naturally seeps from the ocean floor at a rate of approximately 20 million gallons per DAY anyway. When you consider how many rigs there are in the world and how many years they’ve been operational and there have only been 3 major spills, I mean…let’s at least give it a little perspective. Again, not diminishing the tragedy or gravity or long-term implications due to the high concentration, but just another perspective.
    This Garbage Patch has SERIOUS implications and, from what I can tell, just a few environmental groups and media sources are paying attention to it. Big mistake. (sigh) All the rant I can muster. Go ahead and tear me apart now….

  29. Megan permalink
    June 23, 2010

    I’m all about the reusable bags sold at grocery stores. They are both fashionable and practical and very good for the environment! I’m so glad to see so many companies supporting this ides


  30. eARTH hEALER permalink
    August 27, 2010

    First off, fashion can be fun. Can we just clear that up? I mean, come on!! Secondly, there must be balance. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a must. But there is a place for two-ply toilet paper in this world. If we all made smarter choices–thank you Sandra Bullock–we could find harmony between peronal comfort and healing Our Mother!


  31. italian basics permalink
    December 13, 2010

    We must protect our environment from pollution. Proper disposal of plastic is very important.

    Thanks for sharing,

  32. anime pillows for sale permalink
    December 17, 2010

    I recycled some old japanese cuddle pillow shams (I get compliments on them all the time) and helped to reduce the number of plastic bags thrown into our landfill. It’s lead to many other changes including making my own laundry soap, using a clothesline and raising chickens!

  33. Zach permalink
    February 19, 2011

    Paper bags release significantly more CO2 than plastic. 50% corn bags have the same attribute. Cotton bags appear to be the best choice. And of course, organic, non-dyed cotton is preferred.

  34. bag manufacturers permalink
    February 24, 2011

    I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well.Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

  35. Ron permalink
    February 26, 2011

    Well, I live in Houston and the city is thinking of banning plastic grocery bags. Store customers will have to bring their own paper bags or buy their paper bags for 5 cents each. As the owner of a business , I am not sure this is a good idea for either consumers or the business owners. Our local business organization believes that the use of paper bags only, will be more expensive for us. Time will tell but plastic bags are less expensive.

  36. shoenya permalink
    May 30, 2011

    Nice blog you have! keep up the good work =)

  37. classicoffset permalink
    January 21, 2013

    The classic offset is the best shopping bags site.this blog is helpful for readers and i agree with all views and information..nice blog.

  38. Nitin permalink
    March 19, 2013

    Lets make the earth a greener place!

  39. jack permalink
    February 9, 2015

    We must protect our environment from pollution. Proper disposal of plastic is very important.

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