Paper or Plastic? | Lessons From the Debate on Plastic Bags

Last week, Los Angeles became the largest city to date in the United States to enact a plastic bag ban.  Los Angeles joins other California cites including San Jose, San Fransisco, and Long Beach.  The Los Angeles Times reports that this was passed by a wide margin and will have a wide reaching impact (L.A. OK’s Ban on Plastic Bags at Checkout, May 24 2012).

“The city council voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic bags over the next 16 months at an estimated 7,500 stores meaning shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or purchase bags for 10 cents each.  The ban came after years of campaigning by clean-water advocates who said it would reduce the amount of trash in landfills, the region’s waterways and the ocean.  They estimated that Californians use 12 billiont plastic bags a year and that less than 5% of the state’s plastics bags are recycled”

There are no easy answers.  Our family uses reusable bags for majority of our retail purchases, paper bags when we forget our reusable bags (we recycle curbside), and plastic bags occasionally for use with our family dog on neighborhood walks.  Best answer I have heard in the packaging community it that “it depends”.  It depends upon convenience, your uses (reuse?),  and ease of recycling.

Pro’s and Con’s of Paper vs. Plastics Bags was well summarized in the Wall Street Journal (Paper vs. Plastic? A New Look at the Bag Scourge, June 12 2009)

As the debate continues, bans in the US continue to build momentum.  Regardless of where you stand on this topic, a proactive approach is the best strategy.   This is a great opportunity to review your packaging strategies for outbound shipments to your customers as well as your inbound supplier packaging to your facilities.  These strategies often lead to cost and waste reductions to the benefit of your bottom line.

REDUCE:  Can you eliminate or reduce the amount of packaging materials?

REUSE:  Review opportunities to implement returnable or reusable packaging?

RECYCLE:  Do you specify recycled content and design for ease of recycling?

RETHINK:  Step back and take a creative approach to eliminate cost and waste.

Wishing you success in your choices.


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2 comments on “Paper or Plastic? | Lessons From the Debate on Plastic Bags
  1. Bill says:

    Regarding pros and cons:

    Plastic bags are often reused as waste basket liners, cat litter disposal, and various other applications. Plastic bags make up about 1 or 2 percent of all litter. The energy required to produce and transport plastic bags is far less than that of other types of bags.

    Reusable bags must be washed after carrying groceries to prevent E. coli and other health hazards from food handling. The vast majority of reusable bags are not recyclable.

    • cascadiapkg says:

      Thanks for your perspective on plastic bags, Bill. This is a complex issue with no “silver bullet” solution. We challenge our customers to take a step back and look at opportunities to proactively address their packaging from cost and waste reduction perspective.

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