We’ve all had a family day where after a nice lunch at a restaurant the kids often want to have dessert at the local Snog or Pinkberry. You order, go to the counter and whether you’re in Snog or Pinkberry, they either hand you your order in a paper or plastic bag. You head out of the door and think nothing about the ramifications of that simple act of being handed your order; however, the simple difference between paper and plastic has a profound impact on the environment as well as the supply chains used to get your product from where it came from to your hand.
Understanding the Impact of Paper or Plastic
The great debate on whether to choose paper or plastic has its roots in the “Green” movement which advocated for the implementation for more environmentally sustainable methods of production and sales within the UK. In fact, ever since the 1998 Kyoto Protocol and the Blair and Cameron administrations, more policies have been implemented that grant bonuses to businesses for using environmentally sustainable methods of production and distribution. This is all in an effort to ensure that the Earth continues to remain viable for future generations. In the midst of these policies is the debate on the use of paper or plastic when it comes to packaging for consumers. The continued use of plastic is considered as being harmful to the general environmental since it takes a considerably longer period of time for it to break down as compared to its paper counter part. In fact, based on a recent study conducted within the UK, a large percentage of the trash in landfills within the region consists of paper bags that will take hundreds of years to break down. On the other end of the spectrum is the use of paper which is considered to be a more environmentally sustainable option. For instance, if you were to look at CarrierBagsforSale website for their twisted handle paper bags, you would notice that these items look far better as compared to their plastic counterparts. They’re relatively durable, reusable and if you were to throw them away they would break down in a few months. This apparently makes paper the better option; however, you need to take into consideration the fact that numerous trees were chopped down in order to make paper bags and, as such, it cannot really be stated that their production doesn’t also damage the environment as well.
At the store level, the choice between paper and plastic is based on the individual choices of the business as well as the rules enforced with certain districts. For instance, in Wales and various other districts, a 5 pence charge has been placed on the use of plastic bags in certain supermarkets. This is in an effort to curb the continued use of plastic bags that reaches 7.6 billion pieces annually and contributes 61,000 tonne of trash sent to landfills in the UK per year. For some businesses, the use of plastic is a necessity since some paper bags are simply not large enough nor strong enough to hold the purchases of customers. For others that sell smaller items to its clientele such as Snog, the use of paper makes sense due its unique look and its marketing appeal to clients. Government interference though in the use of plastic has continued to increase within the UK as of October 2015 and it is likely that more legislation in preventing the use of plastic bags may continue well into the future. What this means for shops using plastic is that it is likely that they may either absorb the costs which is unlikely, charge their customers for the plastic bags which is likely or they may do away with plastic altogether and concentrate on paper alternatives.
The inherent issue though with removing plastic bags and focusing on reusable containers is that for small items like those in Pinkberry and Snog, it is unlikely that reusable plastic bags will be extensively used and promoted. This is true for many stores in the UK that focus on selling small batches of products rather than the dozens of items people buy from grocery stores. As such, with continued restrictions placed on the use of plastic it is likely that the use of paper may increase; however, this can also result in considerable environmental damage as more trees are cut down in order to satisfy the increased demand for paper based products.
All in all, there are numerous issues with the current legislation being implemented with a lot of outcomes that could have a negative result if insufficient investigations are not implemented regarding the current trend behind demonising the use of plastic bags.
Do you prefer plastic or paper?
Image Ashley Rose via Flickr.