The Choice to Recycle Paper and Plastic Grocery Bags

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Paper or plastic? As if grocery shopping weren't stressful enough, now you're expected to save the planet.

Make the choice to recycle paper and plastic grocery bags through established community recycling programs.

You’ve heard the question a hundred times. Whether you’re stopping off for a quart of milk or a weeks’ worth of dinner, you’ll find yourself in a grocery store checkout line where the cashier will ask the inevitable, anxiety-provoking question about your environmental correctness: Paper or plastic? As if grocery shopping weren’t stressful enough, now you’re expected to save the planet by making a choice to recycle paper and plastic grocery bags.

So what’s the correct answer? According to Will Ferretti, executive director for the National Recycling Coalition, it’s not so much the bag you choose but what happens to the bag once you take it home.

“It’s a function of the community program,” he says. “Some communities have the capability to accept plastic bags in their recycling systems and others don’t. The paper industry is well-established, and the technology is widely developed to be able to convert recovered paper into new kinds of paper. Personally, I pick paper all the time. It’s more functional for my use, and it actually helps me recycle because that’s where I put my discarded material when I put it out at the curb.” So, by simply reusing the bag on your next trip to the store or as a trash container when you get home, you will reduce its impact on the environment by half.

But why stop there? If you really want to help out you won’t choose either one. Says Ferretti: “On second thought the best thing you can do is try to take a canvas bag with you when you go to the supermarket.” As far as the planet is concerned any bag — plastic or paper — is one too many.

–Sam Martin