In recent years, eco-friendly shopping has become a trend that shows no signs of slowing down. The push for sustainability and organic products has spread to big and small brands. Consumers are voting with their dollars by buying organic cotton clothing, organic makeup, cruelty-free beauty products, and paper packaging alternatives.
As the trend continues to grow, so does the availability of eco-friendly alternatives in shopping bags, makeup bags, storage containers, and more. One direction that will never go out of style? A good old-fashioned paper bag.
Before you run out and buy a stack of them, though, there are a few things you should know about paper bags – especially since not all are truly eco-friendly. This guide will walk you through the benefits, uses, shortcomings, and how to be an eco-friendly consumer using nothing but – you guessed it – paper bags.
What are paper bags?
For those who have been avoiding them for years, a paper bag is a lightweight sack made from woven cloth and given structure with a surface coating. The sacks used for grocery stores are known as grocer’s sacks or pushcart sacks, and they’re made from stronger materials to stand up to heavy loads.
Despite their appearance, paper bags are highly recyclable. The use issues arise when the bags are sent to landfills, where they endure significant time and pressure that break down the materials and release greenhouse gases.
Convenience store paper bags may seem eco-friendly because they are usually made from recycled paper. Still, the truth is that they are far less sustainable than you might think.
First of all, let’s define what we mean when we say eco-friendly or sustainable. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) formally defined the term “sustainable” in their 1993 handbook, “ISO 26000.” In that document, they stated that anything is sustainable if it maintains or increases, not impeding future generations’ capacity. In other words, a product, process, or even a company is sustainable if it is planned and managed in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the needs of people today for the benefit of people in the future.
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When it comes to sustainability, the primary concern is diminishing resources. Materials that are used to produce products are usually limited, so the use of those materials needs to be maximized. For that reason, a product’s “ecological efficiency” is used when evaluating its sustainability—that is, how much material is used to make one unit of a product, divided by how much the product originally cost. The lower the number, the more sustainable the development is.
China’s leading paper bag manufacturer, Bagitan Packaging, has been providing sustainable paper packaging using biodegradable and 100% recyclable materials. Their eco-friendly products perform well under heavy loads, yet their environmental impact is still significant.
The benefits of using paper bags
Eco-friendly? Maybe. Sustainable? Definitely. Cheap? Definitely yes. It would help if you switched to carrying your groceries in a paper bag for several reasons, regardless of your eco-friendly priorities.
Reusable and Recyclable
Paper bags are highly recyclable and can be used multiple times before recycling. That means fewer plastic bags ending up in the trash – or the end of the world – and more trips with reusable shopping bags that benefit the environment.
Plastic bags are one dollar each if you don\’t have a Costco membership or if you don\’t travel with one. A pack of 100 paper bags costs about ten dollars and will last you throughout the rest of your life – or at least as long as you shop at regular grocery stores.
As we also mentioned above, plastic bags don’t compost in appreciable time, meaning they only end up as landfill waste. Paper bags are fully compostable, meaning your trash will be a little green.
It is well known today that the use of plastic bags causes a phenomenon known as “sticky-gate.” This occurs when people carry plastic bags in their pockets, and purses become entangled in everything else they try to carry. Because people have to keep taking out new plastic bags to replace the ones they already have in their pockets, the use of plastic bags inevitably leads to an exponential increase in bag size. Paper bags prevent this problem entirely, ensuring that conservationists of all stripes can support their beliefs with action.
How to be an eco-friendly consumer using paper bags?
You can use paper bags instead of plastic bags as an eco-friendly consumer. Paper bags are made from renewable resources and are recyclable, making them more sustainable. When shopping, look for paper bags certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This ensures that the paper bag was made from responsibly managed forests. You can also support paper bag manufacturers that use recycled paper. By using paper roll, you are helping to reduce environmental impact and promote sustainability.
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Here are other things you can do to be more eco-friendly by using paper bags:
Use a bag liner
If you choose to go with a paper bag, you can drastically reduce the number of trees you use by lining your bag with an old newspaper or shopping list.
Look for 100% recyclable paper bags.
Not all paper bags are created equal. Be sure to look for bags that are certified 100% recyclable. These are the only ones that will break down properly in the recycling machine.
Avoid promotional paper bags.
Most paper bags are 100% recyclable, but many people avoid recycling them because of their printing. Promotional bags often have inks that are difficult to remove during recycling, so reserve your reusable attitude for regular, non-promotional bags.
Select eco-friendly brands
When choosing between different paper bag brands, look for eco-friendly ones with a proven track record of supporting environmental causes. You can find these bags easily at most grocery stores.
Put your other groceries in reusable containers.
Instead of using many paper bags, use reusable containers to segment your groceries. Not only will this be better for the environment, but it will also help you reduce the number of times you have to return to the grocery store.
Tell manufacturers and retailers what you want.
Although recycling programs and eco-friendly initiatives are being developed rapidly, the process still has limitations. Some materials are not 100% recyclable, so be sure to let manufacturers and retailers know what materials you want to see recycled. You can also help by recycling the items that can be recycled most efficiently.
The Bottom Line
There are several pros and cons of paper bags. Although paper bags may have drawbacks (such as contributing to deforestation or using chemicals in manufacturing), they ultimately serve a useful purpose. Although some stores charge for plastic bags, others don’t. To avoid paying extra fees or supporting companies that might be considered unethical, consumers can choose to go with paper bags instead.
From the consumer’s point of view, paper bags are convenient. They serve their purpose and don’t cost any extra money to use. They also can’t break or puncture as plastic bags, and they’re more compact when not used.