Dr. Paul Manner writes from Seattle to comment on the new Seattle ordinance banning plastic bags that we discussed in “Bagless in Seattle: Victory is at hand.” Could the law’s favoritism toward paper bags be bad for the environment? Dr. Manner writes:
Actually, plastic is far better for the environment, and this is the funniest aspect of this whole idiotic discussion. From Treehugger:
Plastic bags create fewer airborne emissions and require less energy during the life cycle of both types of bags per 10,000 equivalent uses — plastic creates 9.1 cubic pounds of solid waste vs. 45.8 cubic pounds for paper; plastic creates 17.9 pounds of atmospheric emissions vs. 64.2 pounds for paper; plastic creates 1.8 pounds of waterborne waste vs. 31.2 pounds for paper.
Plastic also has lower energy requirements — these numbers are expressed in millions of British thermal units (Btus) per 10,000 bags, again at 1.5 plastic bags for every one paper bag. Plastic bags require 9.7 million Btus, vs. 16.3 for paper bags at zero percent recycling; even at 100% recycling rates, plastic bags still require less — 7.0 to paper’s 9.1.
From an energy standpoint, canvas bags are 14 times better than plastic bags and 39 times better than paper bags, assuming that canvas bags get a good workout and are used 500 times during their life cycle.
It’s almost enough to make you think something else is going on here.