"Paper or plastic?"
No doubt you've been asked the question at the grocery store.
The good news is your decision probably didn't matter that much. The bad news is both paper and plastic are harmful to the environment, but for different reasons.
"There is no easy answer to the proverbial 'Paper or plastic?' question," says Bill Franklin, a Kansas University engineering graduate who co-owns Franklin Associates, a Prairie Village waste-management consulting firm.
You could make these arguments for using plastic sacks, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency information:
¢ They take 40 percent less energy to create than paper bags.
¢ They generate far fewer air and water pollutants than paper bags.
¢ They require 91 percent less energy to recycle compared with paper bags.
Likewise, here are arguments for requesting paper bags:
¢ Paper bags can decompose in a month. Plastic bags can take 1,000 years to decompose.
¢ They are made from renewable sources (trees). Most plastic bags are made from nonrenewable sources (crude oil and natural gas).
The EPA suggests buying cloth grocery bags, which it says save energy after 11 uses. Franklin says some grocery stores have gone to giving a 5-cent credit to shoppers who reuse paper bags.
"Reuse is the best way to reduce environmental burdens - then recycling," he says.