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Paper or Plastic: What's better for the environment?

Remember the days where you'd be grocery shopping and the bagger would ask your preference:  “Paper or plastic?”  Now, before you can even blink an eye, they're shoving all of your stuff into plastic bags.  Between looking for my Stop & Shop discount card, digging around in the abyss of my purse trying to find my wallet, sometimes I don't have time to even hand them my canvas bag before they've put everything into (cheaper) plastic.  

And sometimes (shhhh) I don't have my canvas bags at all.  I just forget.  No excuses, just a forgetful brain later overwhelmed by severe green guilt.  Or sometimes I do more shopping than I planned and I can't fit everything into the  bags I brought.

What is the greener choice?  Paper or plastic?  Is there even a greener choice?

Sadly, no.

To make all of the paper bags used in a year, it takes 14 million trees.  To make all of the plastic bags we use each year, it takes 12 million barrels of oil.  Making paper bags creates 70% more air polution than plastic bags, but plastic bags create four times the amount of solid waste.  Nobody knows how long plastic bags take to break down, but it's been said that they can also last up to a thousand years.   Isn't that horrendous, especially for something that was created essentially for a one-time use?

Paper uses more resources to produce, but the benefits of paper bags are that they're easier to recycle and compostable (as long as there isn't too much writing on the bag).

Obviously, the best choice is to bring your own bag, but when you forget them, it's really a personal decision about paper versus plastic.  Try keeping a few stashed in your car or if you're a car-free city-dweller, roll them up and keep them in a backpack.