The Energy Consumed to Use Paper and Plastic Bags

The Energy Consumed to Use Paper and Plastic Bags


While polyethylene plastic bags require substantially less energy and water than paper bags using either type of single-use bag consumes

much more energy in the long-term than reusable bags According to Resource Conservation Manitoba and, the US consumes one billion plastic bags annually (about 330 per person), which require 12 million barrels of oil to produce. On today’s commodities market, 12 million barrels of oil costs about $1,284,000,000. Plastic shopping bags are an unnecessary expenditure of petroleum when we can instead carry reusable bags and the oil used to produce plastic bags could be better saved for other products.

Paper bags require much more energy to produce than plastic bags According to a 2007 life cycle assessment conducted by the American Chemistry Council, 2,622 mega joules (MJ) of energy are consumed for every 1,000 paper bags used, from their production to their disposal. This is nearly 3.5 times the energy required for the same carrying capacity (about 1,500 bags) of polyethylene plastic (763 MJ). The life cycle of paper bags also consumes more than 50% more fossil fuels than that of plastic bags The difference in water use is even more extreme- 1,004 gallons are used in the life cycle of 1,000 paper bags while 58 gallons are consumed for the same carrying capacity of plastic bags When taking energy efficiency into account, paper bags are not a viable alternative to plastic. It is more environmentally sound to regularly use reusable bags

Compostable bags are also very energy intensive. According to the American Chemistry Council’s life cycle assessment, compostable bags made from a blend of biodegradable polyester, polylactic acid and calcium carbonate use nearly three times the energy during their life cycle as polyethylene plastic (2,070 MJ) and gobble up more fossil fuels and water than paper.

While polyethylene plastic bags are more energy-efficient than paper and compostable bags all disposable bags present an unnecessary waste of energy, fossil fuels and water compared to reusable bags According to the US EPA, a reusable bag need only be used 11 times to have a milder environmental impact than using 11 disposable plastic bags though it is important to keep in mind that different materials have different environmental impacts. The two-year life cycles of both cotton and polyester reusable bags require a fraction of the energy involved in using any type of single-use bag for two years, and we can save even more energy by using bags made from recycled or second hand materials. Reusable bags are also more economical than disposable bags as most stores offer discounts to shoppers who bring their own bags The reusable bags we invest in now will pay for themselves if we use them regularly. To save energy, water and money, remember to bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping.



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