Plastic, paper or cotton bag? Which one is the best? The answer will surprise you.


Plastic, paper or cotton bag? Which of them is the most environmentally friendly? The answer will surprise you. Each of these bags has its pros and cons. Let's take a look at what impacts different types of bags have on the environment.

Plastic bag

In the 21st century, plastics are a buzzword but in a negative sense. We constantly hear that plastics are bad, overwhelming the planet and polluting the rivers, seas and oceans, and due to the microplastics, they are getting into our food chain. So, what is the truth about plastics then?

Let's look at the very beginning of a great idea, which was invented by the Swedish scientist Sten Gustaf Thulin in 1959. This scientist came up with the idea of a plastic bag which was supposed to replace paper bags that were the main reason for cutting down trees on a large scale. His first idea was great - to find a simple solution that would avert massive deforestation. He found it - that was the plastic that needs for its production only a small amount of water, little oil, and it isn't energy-intensive.

The invention of plastic bags, which would be reusable and long-lasting, was a great idea. And it really happened in the 70's and 80's. The plastic bags were used for shopping, folded in handbags or in pockets, and they were used until the moment the bag came apart in people's hands.

Just remember, even in our country a few decades ago, plastic bags were also used multiple times and it was not common to throw away a plastic bag after a single use. So, where did the mistake happen? The mistake happened because of the comfort of users. The plastic bags were given free of charge to all purchases and consumers grew lazy and learned to throw away the bags after a single use. What started as a great idea of the Swedish scientist to prevent cutting down trees for disposable paper bags, finished because of the convenience of us, consumers, by polluting our planet with plastics.

And can a plastic bag be recycled at all? Yes, it is possible, but recycling of plastic bags changes both the color and the quality. Does the seller want to sell plastic bags with a mixture of colors to his cutomers?

Another question about recycling is what happens to a plastic bag that we throw into a mixed waste container? If the plastic bag ends up in landfill, it takes hundreds of years to decompose. In the case of its disposal by burning, the amount of carbon footprint released into the air is equivalent to the weight of the plastic bag. 

Paper bag 

Because we, as consumers, contaminated the whole planet as a result of our comfort, we decided that using paper bags is a better option than purchasing the rejected plastic bag. And we have come back to the problem from the 60s, where due to a big demand for paper bags, there has been a huge deforestation, where trees which should serve as a source of oxygen for our planet are used in the production, logging and transport.

So why isn't the paper bag the best solution? The productive process of paper bags is demanding not only for the wood which they are made of, but also for the huge amount of water and energy needed for their production, cutting down and transport. We also must not forget that during their production a big amount of wastewater is generated. Not to mention that logging nowadays is not compensated enough by planting new trees.

Even a paper bag can't be recycled indefinitely. It can be recycled up to 7 times but the quality of the paper is reduced, and in the last phase of recycling there is only the production of egg trays, because the quality of the manufactured product no longer corresponds to the quality needed for the production of the paper bag. If the paper bag is not recycled and it ends in landfill, where it is covered by a layer of clay without access to oxygen, it can take hundreds of years to decompose.

In the case of its disposal by burning, the amount of carbon footprint released into the air is equivalent to the weight of the plastic bag. And the paper bag weighs more than plastic bag, it takes up more space in landfill sites. It is also worth mentioning that paper bags cannot be used too many times, because they are torn easily and can not be used repeatedly.

Cotton bag 

The cotton bag has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, both the cotton bag and organic cotton bag are less eco-friendly due to their higher environmental impact at the beginning of the growing process. This impact is primarily caused by a big water consumption while growing cotton, increasing emissions, which also results in the enlargement of the ozone hole. One of the negative impacts of the cotton bag is the unwelcomed change of the land, where the cotton is grown, which is not negligible. Also, its initial costs are higher than those for the paper or plastic bag. But one of its benefits is that it has a long life if you take good care of it, it is washable, and if it tears, you can sew it up.

The bags from Solubag material 

The Solubag material was created by chance, as a by-product in the manufacture of detergent capsules. The Solubag material is based on non-petroleum polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) - this well-known substance is used, for example, to coat drug capsules. Normally it is made of petroleum, but not in the case of Solubag production. The result is an eco-friendly and non-hazardous substance which is used in the production of Solubag bags. The bags can be used many times and their main advantage is solubility in hot water. So you don't have to worry that your bag will melt when it rains😊 If you don't like your bag anymore or it has worn out, simply dissolve it in hot water (more than 85 °C).

After dissolving the bag only hydrogen, carbon and oxygen remain. For example, with this harmless solution you can easily water flowers. The bag decomposes spontaneously in nature within 180 days. If you throw the bag into a recycling container, it will not be degraded, as is the case, for example, after throwing organic plastics into plastic waste.

Which bag is the best? 

What is the advice in the end? Carry your own bag to use as long as you can. And when the bag wears out, be it a paper, plastic, cloth or Solubag bag, don't forget to recycle it.