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Paper v. Plastic: It’s No Contest

“Paper, or plastic?” How many times have you been given the choice? As far as we’re concerned at PreZero, the answer is easy. It’s like the choice between the Beatles and elevator music.

And here’s the thing: it’s probably not what you think—or what you’ve been told to believe.

The answer is plastic, every time. Plastic makes sense—both practically and environmentally. Let’s break down paper v. plastic:

Energy & Resources: Plastic Bags Use Less
A study comparing the environmental impact of 1,000 paper bags to 1,500 plastic bags found that in the manufacturing process:
●    Paper bags require more fossil fuels to create (such as petroleum and natural gas) than plastic bags.
●    Paper bags create more solid waste than plastic bags.
●    Paper bags use more water than plastic bags.
●    Paper bags use more energy in the manufacturing process than plastic bags.

Strength: Plastic Bags are Stronger
The average weight held by a reusable plastic bag is roughly 45 pounds. The average weight held by paper grocery bags? 25 pounds. If something leaks or weak glue rips off a handle or base, that number quickly moves to zero, sending the bag's content tumbling to the ground.

Longevity: Plastic Wins Again
An average plastic grocery bag from PreZero can be used 125 times. Paper bags? Hard to say as they tear easily, don’t handle excess weight, and are pretty much useless if they get wet.

Food Storage: Plastic Film Extends Life
Not only does thinner plastic film help preserve the life of food en route to grocery stores, but it also helps it last longer in the fridge. Food waste in America is estimated at a staggering 30-40% of the food supply. Plastic film can help prevent some of that waste—something paper cannot do.

Effect on Landfills: Paper Is Gassy
While it’s true plastic bags take much longer to biodegrade in a landfill than their paper counterparts, those paper bags (due to the conditions in a landfill) put a whole lot of greenhouse gas emissions into the environment while there, which plastic bags do not. 

Transportation Costs: Lighter Is Better
Paper bags are bigger and weigh more than plastic bags when shipping, meaning transporting them requires more vehicles, gasoline, and emissions than plastic.

Recyclability: Paper Just Doesn’t Last
Yes, the paper used in a paper bag can be recycled, but it won’t come back as a paper bag because fibers weaken and lose the strength needed to handle weight. Instead, it’ll get used for something requiring less strength until it goes into the landfill. Plastic bags, on the other hand, can be part of a “closed loop” process that recycles and reuses content again and again for products that have the same or higher level of use each time.

Did that information surprise you? As a society, we’re often told “plastic is bad,” and we should always choose the paper option. And yes, while helpful, lightweight plastic bags are bad for the environment if not handled and recycled responsibly. That’s where it makes sense to recycle them into reusable versions.

Paper, while it has its place in certain applications, is much worse for the environment long-term—as long as you decide to reuse your plastic bags repeatedly. As Ricky Nelson crooned: “It’s up to you.” 🎵