Throw away plastic has become a huge burden on our shared home, which has led many individuals and corporate/governmental entities to encourage the use of paper bags instead of the classic plastic shopping bags that have been used for decades.
But is this a step in the right direction? Can they be recycled, or are paper bags also problematic for the already strained environment?
The answer: it depends. The environmental impact of using paper bags varies depending on how they are made and disposed of.
If you’re looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint, then recycling paper bags can be an effective option. Let’s explore the issue in greater detail.
Are Most Paper Bags Recyclable?
Thankfully, most paper bags are indeed recyclable and compostable. Paper is made from wood, and wood is a completely natural, totally eco resource.
When it’s returned to the Earth, it decomposes efficiently and once again becomes part of the landscape – woo!
However, even though paper bags are absolutely a step in the right direction, this doesn’t necessarily mean that paper bags are the environmental savior we’ve all been waiting for.
Are Paper Bags Environmentally Friendly?
The increase in demand for paper bags will inevitably lead to more trees being cut down, so unless the wood used in paper creation is responsibly sourced using renewable means, the positive environmental impact is somewhat offset by deforestation.
Then there’s the matter of transport to consider. Paper bags weigh a little more than plastic bags.
When dealing with a great number of them, that excess weight becomes quite significant, meaning more fuel and energy is required to get them from A to B.
Another issue we need to confront before we hail the paper bag as the planetary hero it’s pegged to be is the production process.
It takes considerably more energy to manufacture paper bags than it does plastic bags. So, are paper bags environmentally friendly? In one way, yes.
They can be returned to the Earth without causing any damage whatsoever, but they’re also leading to us burning through our resources faster than ever before.
Are Any Forms Of Paper Bag Not Recyclable?
There are some forms of paper bags that aren’t recyclable.
For example, if you buy a large quantity of paper bags at a discount store like Costco, these may not be accepted by local recycling programs.
Also, certain types of paper bags such as those containing meat products cannot be recycled because of contamination issues.
These types of paper bags should never be thrown out with regular trash. But the really problematic thing to look out for is lamination.
The obvious flaw of a paper bag is its durability. It will last for a few uses if you’re careful with it, but it’s not going to last a lifetime.
To combat this, some production companies use lamination techniques, meaning they coat the paper in a resilient layer, a layer that’s usually made out of plastic, thereby completely nullifying the positive environmental impact of paper bags.
Laminated paper bags cannot at this point in time be recycled.
Why Can’t Laminated Paper Bags Be Recycled?
Although the plastic used to coat a laminated paper bag is often recyclable in its own right, it’s the bonds with the paper that make it a nightmare for recycling plants to deal with.
These materials cannot be separated in any efficient way, and as plastic and paper require very different recycling methods, they cannot be kept as one, and thus, cannot be recycled.
Are Paper Bags Compostable?
Yes, the majority of paper bags are compostable. However, many municipalities have different rules about what sort of material can be added to their compost bins.
Some cities only accept food waste, while others won’t accept anything other than yard trimmings.
So, you may have to take on bag composting yourself. And, again, only non-laminated, unsoiled bags should be used during the composting process.
Laminated bags will not break down, and soiled bags could contaminate the area.
How To Compost Paper Bags
To properly compost your paper bags, all you need to do is put them in your compost bin.
If you don’t have a compost bin, then you can simply put your paper bags in a pile with your yard trimmings.
You’ll just need to make sure that you turn the pile every week or so. If you do have a compost bin, you can place your paper bags inside.
Make sure that you keep an eye on them though, as they can quickly grow mold if left unattended.
How To Recycle Paper Bags
Paper bags are very easy to recycle. All you need to do is bring them to a drop-off center where they’ll be collected and processed.
Most places offer free collection services, and there are even some businesses that will pick up your bags from your home.
Once collected, paper bags will be shredded and pulped and reused to make all manner of things, from more packaging materials to magazines and posters.
You can also recycle paper bags yourself by composting them (as discussed above), using them for craft work and various projects, or, if you’re really dedicated, by pulping them yourself and pressing them into fresh paper sheets.
Can Paper Bags With Greaseproof Linings Be Recycled?
Although I’ve been pretty hard on lamination up to this point of the article, not all coatings on paper bags are the root of all evil.
Some greaseproof coatings will be made entirely from natural waxes, meaning the bag itself is perfectly recyclable – woo-hoo!
Final Thoughts: How To Boost The Positive Environmental Impact Of Paper Bags
If you really want to offset the negative aspects of the paper bag industry, try to get as much use out of your bags as humanly possible.
The more times you use each individual bag, the fewer you’ll use throughout your lifetime.
Oh, and, of course, always, always recycle paper bags, and if you discover a certain brand or type of paper bag has a plastic coating, stop using them immediately.
If we keep these pointers in mind, we can make the world a better place!