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Paper vs. Plastic


As a leading supplier of flexible plastic packaging products, Elkay Plastics Co., Inc. is well aware of the negative stigma associated with all plastic products and their impact on the environmentThe reality of the situation is that all commercial products present harmful externalities to the environment if not properly disposed of or reused. Responding to this challenge, many environmental activists nationwide target plastic bags in particular as an environmental problem while promoting other options as more "environmentally friendly" alternatives. At Elkay, we strongly disagree with such assertions and point to the fact that plastic products, if reused and properly disposed of, are an environmentally sound choice for all types of packaging.

Many people from around the world have been erroneously convinced that paper is an environmentally superior option to plastic. Contrary to popular belief, plastic bags are a great choice when it comes to preserving the environment if properly reused and disposed of and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), present less environmental challenges than competing products such as paper.  


"It takes 13 to 17 trees to make one ton of paper bags. In 1997, 955,000 tons of paper bags were used in the United States"  (U.S. EPA)

If one does the mathematics correctly, the statistics add up to a range of 13 to 17 million trees used in 1997 alone to create paper bags.  If the public decides to choose paper bags in favor of plastic bags, the situation will lead to a massive increase in the number of trees that must be chopped down, turned to pulp, and chemically treated to create additional paper bags. Contrary to popular belief, plastic resin is made from a by-product of natural gas, not oil, as some environmental activists misguidedly claim.

"[The Manufacture of] Paper bags generate 70% more air [pollutants] and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags." (U.S. EPA) 

"2000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds [where as] 2000 paper bags [of the same size] weigh 280 pounds." (U.S. EPA)

This statistic implies that it would take at least nine more truckloads of paper bags to deliver the same amount of plastic bags, which inevitably leads to more usage of fossil fuels as well as far greater emissions of greenhouse gasses.  

"Plastic grocery bags consume 40% less energy to produce and generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags." (U.S. EPA)



"Paper takes up nine times more space in landfills [than does plastic]" (USA Today)

There is a large misconception that paper products degrade significantly more quickly than plastic products in a landfill. According to another EPA statement, "Current research demonstrates that paper in today's landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic does." This issue is not strictly exclusive to paper and plastic as nothing degrades quickly when confined to a landfill. Modern landfills are designed to keep air and light away from its waste content in order to keep the area as sanitary as possible and thus keep rodents and pestilence away from nearby societies. Nothing will degrade quickly in a landfill void of sunlight, moisture, and air; even products that are widely deemed to be fully biodegradable. 

Some government agencies and environmental activists are encouraging the use of compostable plastics as substitutes for plastic and paper packaging. Compostable products are not an ideal solution to the litter problem since special disposal facilities to render the degradation processes are required. Compostable products will only be rendered biodegradable after undergoing treatment in special composting facilities, of which there are no more than one hundred within United States. If left as litter or placed in a landfill, a compostable product will fare no better than its conventional plastic counterpart. In addition, more material is required to give the compostable bag the strength and durability that conventional plastic possess today while also adding costs higher than those of plastic bags.

"Four times as much energy is required to produce paper bags (compared to plastic bags) and 85 times as much energy is needed to recycle them." (USA Today)



It is the belief of Elkay Plastics Co., Inc. that the most feasible and effective option that will have a positive impact on protecting the environment in the long term is the reuse and recycling of plastic bags. Plastic bags are fully reusable and recyclable products and are easily disposed of in bins, which are increasingly available at most supermarkets. The refuse plastic bags are then forwarded to plastic processing/recycling facilities. There is a high demand for reprocessed plastics in several markets. Recycled materials can be used for products such as railroad ties, decking, and new bags made from recycled plastic.

Elkay Plastics Co., Inc. is fully aware of the importance of sustainability and has added new products to create even more environmentally friendly options for customers. Although Elkay believes that conventional plastic bags are an environmentally sound option if reused and recycled at their end life, we are proud to have added both controlled-life plastic bags and reusable non-woven bags to our product line. Non-woven polypropylene carry-out and wine bags are designed to be reused hundreds of times and can be used for activities ranging from carrying groceries from the store to bringing towels to the beach. Elkay’s other new product line, controlled-life plastic bags, are made with a special additive that allows the bag to break down within two years in the presence of oxygen, moisture, and sunlight. Our controlled-life bags are equal to conventional plastic bags in terms of recyclability, strength, clarity, flexibility and price. Elkay has, in fact, replaced the majority of its existing inventory of regular t-shirt and take-out bags with their controlled-life counterparts. Although Elkay has added controlled-life bags to its product line, we still firmly believe in recycling such products. Instead, Elkay views its controlled-life bags as low cost insurance against negligent disposal.

Elkay Plastics Co., Inc. strongly believes that a drive to place recycling bins nationwide coupled with a stalwart educational effort can significantly reduce environmental degradation caused by plastic bags on a national scale. Our goal is to work with manufacturers, other plastic bag distributors, downstream distribution channels and end users to spread awareness of the benefits of plastic recycling and help implement programs that place conveniently located recycling and processing facilities nationwide.

Elkay Plastics Co., Inc. promises to explore all possible alternatives that will allow us to provide the same high quality

**USA Today, Editorial, April 2, 2007