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Paper or Plastic, That Is The Question.

Trying to live a green-ish life can be a challenge – sometimes because it takes more effort to do the green thing, or more time; sometimes because it’s more expensive, or means that you have to opt for an alternative that will work, but not be as satisfying as the original; and sometimes just because it is hard to know which choice is the greener one.

Take, for instance, electric cars. Yes, burning fossil fuels is not the solution – but with the current electric cars, batteries are a huge issue. Producing batteries takes a lot of energy and ressources, so it does take quite a while for an electric car to become greener overall, regarding its complete environmental impact, than a regular fossil-fuel car driven in an eco-friendly way. And that only if you fill up your batteries with electricity exclusively from renewable sources.

There’s a similar thing when packing stuff. Plastic or paper bags? At first glance, you’d think that a paper bag would be the greener choice by far. Unfortunately that is not the case, as manufacturing paper bags and even recycling paper is consuming quite a lot of energy and water as well. So paper and plastic bags… both not a good choice, though if you are using it only once, a lightweight plastic bag might even be the lesser evil.

While we’re at the topic of plastic and it maybe causing more good than harm, here’s an interesting thing from the BBC about plastic packaging, especially of food items.

The thing that irks me a little in these reports and assessments: It would be perfectly possible to use energy from renewable sources to produce paper bags, and while the reports mention that the trees could stay un-felled and absorb CO2 instead of becoming paper bags, they don’t mention that plastic is made from a finite ressource. So it does, overall, sound a little bit biased to me.

It would also not be so necessary to have plastic packaging for food if they are produced, sold and consumed locally. Which, obviously, is not possible for all kinds of fruit and vegetables – but buying locally from a farmer at the market will usually get you fresh produce at a fair price, and with little to no packaging. Especially if you re-use the bags you have, whether that is cotton, paper or plastic. As the plastic bags today are mostly very lightweight, it’s easy to just stuff one or two into your handbag or bike pannier or whatever else you carry with yourself on an ordinary day, for impromptu shopping stuff. (It never hurts to have an extra bag in the bag. Just like a spoon. Both totally belong in any handbag, if you ask me.)

So… I’m trying to buy things with as little packaging as possible. Which means I am trying to avoid plastic even more than paper, though, as I think that the environmental impact of microplastics and the problem of the non-renewable basis for this are still factors that speak for paper instead of plastic where packaging must be used. The bags that do land in our home are reused – paper bags from the bakery store dried bread leftovers that will be turned into delicious dishes a bit later, or – most of them – become bin liners for the compost bin. Plastic bags are re-used several times for packing things, like fresh produce bought at the market, until something really dirties them up or until they develop holes so they are not useful anymore. Some get a last call to duty as the kitty litter bag… which actually is one of the few things that would be a hassle without plastic bags.

So… what’s your stance on plastic or paper bags?

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