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Climate change, they say, isn’t the only form of environmental degradation to worry about.
“The big difference is that paper does biodegrade eventually.
Plastic is a toxin that stays in the environment, marine animals ingest it, and it enters their bodies and then ours.”Some social justice activists who work in low-income urban neighborhoods or communities of color also argue that plastic bags are a particular scourge.
Others, like in New York City, treat all single-use bags equally.
Even then, the question remains as to whether single-use bags are necessarily always worse than reusable ones.
For example, because paper bags take up so much more space, more trucks are needed to ship paper bags to a store than to ship plastic bags.
Still, many environmentalists argue that plastic is worse than paper.If a plastic bag is reused in the home as the garbage bag in a bathroom waste bin, does that reduce its footprint by eliminating the need for another small plastic garbage bag?If your chief concern is climate change, things get even muddier.People still need bags to bring home their groceries.And the most common substitute, paper bags, may be just as bad or worse, depending on the environmental problem you’re most concerned about.The adverse impacts of plastic bags are undeniable: When they’re not piling up in landfills, they’re blocking storm drains, littering streets, getting stuck in trees, and contaminating oceans, where fish, seabirds, and other marine animals eat them or get tangled up in them.As longtime plastic bag adversary Ian Frazier recently reported in , “In 2014, plastic grocery bags were the seventh most common item collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, behind smaller debris such as cigarette butts, plastic straws, and bottle caps.” The New York City Sanitation Department collects more than 1,700 tons of single-use carry-out bags every week, and has to spend .5 million a year to dispose of them.Even studies conducted with the purest of intentions depend on any number of assumptions.How many plastic bags are replaced by one cotton tote bag?The reasons for paper’s higher carbon footprint are complex, but can mostly be understood as stemming from the fact that paper bags are much thicker than plastic bags.“Very broadly, carbon footprints are proportional to mass of an object,” says Tyler.