Paper vs plastic

Almost all groceries, restaurants, and other establishments we go to nowadays use paper bags to package and carry items we buy.

Since the passage of Senate Bill No 2759 or the Total Plastic Ban Act, establishments all over the country either use paper bags or scrap cardboard boxes.

Several municipalities already passed ordinances for an expanded version of the law. For example, Los Baños now prohibits the use of plastic straws, plastic cups, and plates through Municipal Ordinance No. 2014-1316. It’s called the Expanded Plastic Ordinance of the Municipality of Los Baños.

Such efforts to save the environment are being replicated by other towns and cities in the country.

Other ASEAN member states have joined the global bandwagon to fight plastic pollution. Brunei Darussalam wants to stop the use of plastic bags in supermarkets by 2019, and shoppers are encouraged to use reusable eco-friendly bags for grocery shopping.

Thailand, on the other hand, aims to promote the importance of reducing the number of plastic bags to lessen the harmful effects to our environment. Chains of convenience stores numbering 11,000 have implemented the campaign “Say No to Plastic Bag.”

Singapore, known as a destination for fastfood foodies, already banned plastic lids and straws for dine-in customers on June 20, 2018.

Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos also ban and/or impose taxes on the use of plastic bags.

Many more countries have taken the lead to ban plastics bags such as Mexico, India, Burma, Rwanda apart from the more industrialized countries like the U.S., England, and Australia.

Other countries such as Italy, Belgium, and Ireland have chosen not to ban plastic bags, but to tax establishments that use it.

The paper bag has become the symbol of a new environmental revolution that’s sweeping the country and the world over. Conversely, the plastic bag has become the symbol of environmental scourge.

Because plastic bags are not biodegradable, its destructive impacts to environment is huge—from clogging drainage and causing floods to killing wildlife in rivers and oceans.

Despite these efforts, there is still an estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags used worldwide annually and half a million plastic straws used around the globe every day.

While the biodegradable paper bag presents a tempered solution to the harmful effects of plastic bags, is its use a sustainable solution to protect the environment?

Paper comes from trees. Producing paper consumes natural resources primarily trees, lots of trees.

According to the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the U.S. consumes 10 billion paper grocery bags each year, requiring 14 million trees. Paper bag production requires trees to be cut down, therefore reducing a major absorber of greenhouse gases.

Moreover, according to a Wall Street Journal report, producing paper bags consume more water and energy, and emit more greenhouse-gas emissions than that of producing plastics bags.

So what’s better—paper bags or plastic bags? Probably neither. But what paper bag use has brought to the fore is the consciousness to take care of the environment. It has spawned a movement towards finding sustainable solutions.

One solution is the use of biodegradable plastic bags. Another is the use of reusable bags now being practiced in big grocery stores across the country.

Other countries have resorted to alternatives that not only limit the use of plastic bags, but also give a boost to local industries.

In Bangladesh, bags made of Jute, a vegetable fiber spun into coarse threads has seen a surge of exports. The Jute bags are exported to eco-friendly foreign buyers which make them alternative to plastic bags.
In the end, we have to find a sustainable solution to the urgent environmental problem.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at The author is President & CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consultancy Inc, a digital and culture transformation firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University.