Activity: Pick 10 numbers, read the fact, and then determine is Paper or Plastic better.
- Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
- About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
- A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
- More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
- Only 1 in 200 plastic bags in the UK are recycled (BBC).
- The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
- Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
- Plastic is made of a waste matter derived from the refining of oil or natural gas products, and is created using substances that would have been otherwise discarded.
- Discarded plastic bags take up less space in landfills: 2,000 plastic bags weigh less than 30 pounds; 2,000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds.
- Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
- Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
- The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion. (The Wall Street Journal)
- The extremely slow decomposition rate of plastic bags leaves them to drift on the ocean for untold years. According to Algalita Marine Research Foundation, these plastic bags cause the death of many marine animals (fish, sea turtles, etc.), every year when animals mistake them for food.
- When plastics break down, they don't biodegrade; they photo-degrade. This means the materials break down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins. They then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion.
- Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up to harvest them. These are then woven and sold as hats and (more durable) bags
- Americans consume more than 10 billion paper bags each year.
- About 14 million trees are cut down annually for the paper bag production.
- The use of toxic chemicals during paper bag production pollutes the environment, causing acid rain, water pollution, and much more.
- In order to recycle paper, it must be returned to pulp using many chemicals to bleach and disperse the fibers. Although paper bags have a higher recycling rate than plastic, each new paper grocery bag you use is made from mostly virgin pulp for better strength and elasticity. Bags that are recycled are often turned into corrugated cardboard, not new paper bags.
- Paper is degradable, but it cannot completely break down in modern landfills because of the lack of water, light, oxygen, and other necessary elements. About 95% of garbage is buried beneath layers of soil that make it difficult for air and sunlight to reach it.
- More than 60% of paper bags end up in a landfill. The paper grocery bags in landfills that do decompose release methane gas, which contributes significantly to global warming (23 times more than carbon dioxide over a 100 year horizon).
- Paper products constitute the largest single component of municipal solid waste.
- The paper industry is the largest single water consumer of any sector in the national economy.
Paper Vs. Plastic Head to Head:
It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does a plastic bag:
Plastic: 594 BTUs ( British measurement of energy)
Paper: 2,511 BTUs
It takes 98% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper:
Plastic: 17 BTUs
Paper: 1,444 BTUs
The production of paper bags generates 70% more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than the production of plastic bags. Even paper bags made from 100% recycled fiber use more fossil fuels than plastic bags. So, what's it gonna be: paper or plastic? Keep in mind, both come with distinct disadvantages to the environment, which we lay out next.