Eco-Logic: Is Paper More Eco-friendly than Plastic?

Make the best choice for the environment.

| May/June 1999

"It’s not easy being green,” according to Kermit the Frog. So many choices, so many voices.

When it comes to consumer products, few are environmentally perfect. Each has qualities, pro and con, that make it either an eco-plus or an eco-bust.

This is particularly true when it comes to the age-old debate on paper vs. plastic. You most likely made up your mind years ago on the correct green way to go, so your answer to the checker at the supermarket is routine by now. But deep down inside you may still question whether or not you’re right. Choosing plastic may help save a tree, but selecting paper may keep landfills to a minimum.

For most of us, our choice is based on an either-or approach adopted when we first became environmentally aware. But the 1990s have shown the answer to be far more complex. The real concern is not plastic vs. paper so much as it is the problems created by the huge amount of solid waste both these common household materials contribute to the environment. The imperative has become to stop putting so much of either material into landfills and incinerators. Recycling minimizes waste.

Therefore, your number one correct response at the supermarket is to give the clerk a cloth bag of your own for your groceries—a bag you can reuse over and over. The paper bag your supermarket offers is probably not a good choice because it’s made of virgin paper. Just as the plastic bag is molded from virgin resin. Recycled paper? Good. Recycled plastic. Good. Recyclable cloth bags? Best of all.

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