Musings of a Beaverton Teen: Which is better, paper or plastic?

By Lani Garcia (11th Grader)03 BYOB

“Paper or plastic?”

I’m sure you get that question every time you go to the grocery store. You may answer paper, thinking they must be better for the environment, right? But in reality, both plastic and paper bags are horrible for the environment.

The case against paper.

Paper bags contribute to deforestation. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, Americans alone use around 10 billion of them a year! This means 14 million trees have to be cut down to make them. Also, it takes one gallon of water to make one paper bag. That’s 50 times more water than it takes to make a plastic bag. The process causes 50 times more water pollution and 70 percent more air pollution than plastic bags. They are made with a process called kraft pulping, resulting in 50 percent of each tree to be wasted and turned into sludge, which goes into landfills. While paper bags are able to decompose, it can take decades due to lack of oxygen in landfills. Where, by the way, they take up much more space than plastic.

The case against plastic.

This is not to say plastic bags are an eco-friendly option either. They are made from petroleum, meaning 12 billion barrels of oil are used each year in the United States to make them. The process also causes fossil fuels to be released into our atmosphere. Sadly, plastic bags affect many animals directly. About 100,000 marine animals die each year from eating plastic or suffocating from it.

The solution?

If you really want to help our environment, don’t let yourself be confined by having to choose paper or plastic. Instead, bring your own reusable bag made from sustainable materials. They hold way more than plastic or paper, and their handles and bottoms don’t rip causing you to spill your groceries in the parking lot. Plus, some stores will even give you money back if you bring your own bag. Others donate that money to charity.

Here’s a hint.

Keep a couple reusable bags in your car so you won’t forget them and you’ll have them wherever you go. And next time you go to the store, BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)!

Lani is a junior at Beaverton High School. As a ZooTeen, she volunteers at the Oregon Zoo during the summer. She plays piano & guitar, and enjoyed doing dragon boats this past year.