All About the Environmental Impact of Paper Grocery Bags

All About the Environmental Impact of Paper Grocery Bags

Are you striving to create a green business? There are numerous benefits to running an eco-conscious enterprise, from saving the planet to increasing efficiency. As a farmer, taking care of the earth ties back to the success of your farm and fields. This practice creates a cleaner environment for your plants to thrive in, optimizing your crop production and quality. In other words, a healthier planet means better quality produce.

When it comes to selling your crops in an environmentally friendly manner, the age-old debate surrounding packaging and grocery bags arises. Many grocery stores now enforce strict bagging standards in an effort to go green; they add fees for using plastic and promote paper and reusable alternatives, like paper bags. However, as in most scenarios, achieving 100 percent green and clean results is challenging. Paper comes with a list of environmental cons right alongside its advantages. Here is all you need to know about the environmental impact of paper grocery bags and whether they are right for your green business.

Paper vs. Other Grocery Bags

Over time, numerous forms of shopping bags have been created, providing a practical solution for packaging and transporting groceries home. Before bags entered the picture, people only bought what they could carry in their hands or hauled everything in carts. Without proper carrying methods, people were limited in how much they could buy and were forced to make multiple trips to the store. Now, there is a vast range of grocery bag options—the most popular being plastic, cotton, and paper. Compared to plastic and cotton, brown paper bags offer both environmental advantages and disadvantages.

Plastic Grocery Bags

Plastic bags provide businesses with a quick, cheap, and easily-accessible carrier. They are simple to produce in bulk but come with numerous negative environmental side effects. In comparison to classic paper holders, plastic grocery bags:

  • Create more landfill waste;
  • Take longer to decompose;
  • Produce and release toxic substances;
  • Use up a lot of fossil fuels; and
  • Are difficult and costly to recycle.

They generate a higher carbon footprint than paper carriers, making them one of the least environmentally friendly solutions. However, plastic bags supply sellers with water-resistant, inexpensive grocery bags.

Cotton Totes

Like paper bags, cotton totes are a popular eco-alternative to plastic as they are reusable and minimize the overall production of litter. However, creating cotton totes requires lots of water. Also, they take a while to decompose, which occupies scarce landfill space.

Brown Paper Bags

Brown paper bags possess biodegradable properties, reducing their overall environmental impact. Their biodegradable abilities minimize waste and litter, instead decomposing into nutrients that are beneficial for the environment. Although, like plastic, paper bags are produced in bulk and often made for single-use purposes. And like both plastic and cotton, paper requires a fair amount of resources and creates some pollution during production.

The Life Cycle and Eco-Footprint of Paper Bags

The life cycle of a shopping bag is divided into multiple parts: sourcing, production, usage, and disposal. Numerous factors play into the bag's eco-footprint, creating an array of environmental impacts throughout its life cycle. Although many see paper shopping bags as one of the more eco-friendly versions of grocery carriers, they still create negative environmental impacts during different aspects of their production and use.

Material Sourcing

Sourcing paper over plastic offers a more sustainable solution since paper is a renewable resource. It comes from two major sources—wood and recycled paper. Between the two, using recycled paper offers more environmental benefits than chopping down trees and sourcing fresh wood for pulp. However, many paper plants don't source recycled materials. Instead, numerous trees are cut down to produce new sheets. If cut trees aren't replaced or sustainably farmed, creating paper shopping bags risks aiding deforestation.

Production and Energy Efficiency

When sourced sustainably, the biggest contributor to paper bags' carbon footprint is their production process. Plastics come in bulk loads because they are quick and easy to make. On the other hand, paper bags require more steps and resources for their manufacturing process. Producing the pulp for paper and creating the bag itself requires a lot of energy—in most cases, considerably more energy than what is needed in plastic manufacturing. The increased energy usage requires people to reuse their paper grocery bags at least twice to actually get the most out of the energy used. Luckily, paper offers versatile qualities that allow the product to be used multiple times and for a variety of circumstances.

Waste Disposal

One of the biggest selling points of paper carriers is their biodegradability and recyclability; they generate more sustainable waste than other shopping bags. However, many people treat their paper bags as single-use items, discarding them once the groceries are unpacked. Despite being biodegradable, paper in landfills still litters the environment and affects surrounding ecosystems. Not to mention, when combined with other piled waste, paper bags decompose and produce unhealthy amounts of greenhouse gas. In order for people to maximize the environmental benefits of paper bags, they need to reuse, repurpose, or properly recycle the paper.

How To Use Paper Grocery Bags More Efficiently

Classic brown grocery bags offer a lot of environmentally friendly properties, especially when used in an eco-conscious manner. Although it's difficult for an item to be 100 percent environmentally sustainable, there are ways to reduce its impact. The biodegradable characteristics and natural composition of paper bags make them an effective nutrient source for fertilizer and compost. Using the paper for nutrient-rich fertilization reduces landfill waste and makes the most of the energy and resources used to create the brown bags. Other ways to repurpose paper grocery bags include:

  • Using them as fire fuel;
  • Using them in arts and crafts projects;
  • Reusing bags for subsequent grocery runs; and
  • Recycling them into another material source for new bags.

Paper bags offer a range of purposes that further enhance their eco-friendly qualities.

The environmental impact of paper grocery bags ultimately depends on how the bags are used. Compared to plastic, they provide a wider range of eco-conscious uses. And compared to cotton totes, paper grocery bags are easier to supply and stock in bulk, making them a more practical bagging option for businesses. All shopping bags and packages come with their own negative environmental impacts and sustainability disadvantages. When choosing a carrier for your enterprise, consider your needs, preferences, and how you can promote environmentally friendly shopping practices.

All About the Environmental Impact of Paper Grocery Bags