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Plastic bags versus paper bags

Plastic bags versus paper bags

Reader Anita Penford Alexander, Artsci’81, of Hockessin, DE, cautions that paper bags, supposedly eco-friendly, may actually be no better than plastic bags.

Letter to the Editor

Re: Letters -- “Plastic bags, what irony!” Issue #3-2010, p. 5

I caught the letter from Deborah Pearson complaining it was a gross irony that plastic sleeves were used for mailing [the “Green themed” issue of] the Review. I think this would be a great topic for an economics class cost /benefit analysis on which product creates the bigger environmental footprint.

Paper bags do not come without cost to the environment. The trees cut down no longer contribute to the quality of our environment by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen to our air by their process of respiration. There are the costs of cutting and logging and processing the paper and the resultant pollutions released. And then what about the glue needed, whereas the plastic is sealed by heat?

I don’t think it is a slam dunk that we should be using paper covers for mailing. Look at the build-up of paper in our landfills. How long does it take to biodegrade? Maybe plastic bags that biodegrade are the best environmental choice. Plastic technology has changed greatly in the time this paper/plastic debate has been waged. I believe the whole chain of production for plastic and paper should be examined for the costs and the benefits, as well as the effect from their end products in our landfills. Only then could we settle the debate for this time, with the full knowledge that as technology and our environment change, those costs and benefits will again need to be reexamined.

Let us not jump to conclusions. Let us rather use our university to examine the choices and come up with a decision based on the realities of 2010.

Anita Penford Alexander, Artsci’81
Hockessin, DE

Many cities, towns, and rural areas in Canada and the U.S. have recycling programs that handle paper waste as well as plastic bags. However, the Review has asked our printer is looking into the availability of eco-friendly brown paper mailing wrappers of the kind used by National Geographic and some other publications. More news on that front soon.—Ed.


[Queen's Alumni Review 2010-4 cover]