New research shows that banning plastic packaging could be harmful to the environment

Sustainability |  2 min. read

“Plastic packaging ban ‘could harm environment’.”

Now if you saw that BBC headline last month, you might have thought, “Wait.  What?”

So let’s take a look at what the story under that headline had to say. Plastic bags, paper bags, cloth bags, plastic bottles, glass bottles, metal cans, everything has an impact on the environment.  And what’s better and what’s worse isn’t always what you might think.

“Paper bags tend to have higher carbon emissions than plastic bags, and are more difficult to re-use.”

Why?  Even though the paper comes from trees, and you can plant a tree to replace a tree it takes a lot more energy (carbon emissions) to make that paper.  And if you ever had the handles pull off in your hand, or had something leak in your paper bag, you already know why paper can be more difficult to reuse.

“…an avid shopper would have to reuse his or her cotton bag 131 times before it had a smaller global warming impact than a lightweight plastic bag used only once.”

Energy again.  Growing cotton, or any other crop, takes energy.  Cotton also requires a lot of land and water and fertilizer.  And that all impacts our environment.

“Glass bottles, for instance, are much heavier than plastic so are far more polluting to transport.”

Yes, one more thing to consider!  Since most of what we eat and drink, and buy in general, comes from somewhere other than where we are, the costs of transportation have to be a part of our decision-making as well.

“Plastic remains the most effective material in many circumstances – for example cucumbers wrapped in plastic last 14 days longer, reducing food waste.”

And there’s that too.  When food gets tossed because it’s gone bad, at the grocery store or in our fridge, the resources used to produce that food (see cotton, up above) are wasted too.  Also not good for us, or the environment.

Ok, if your head is starting to spin: paper or plastic, glass or metal? There is good news.

“A coherent waste and resources strategy is one that prioritizes reducing the environmental impact of the things we buy, not simply reducing plastic use.”

We can make good choices. We just have to take into account the full environmental impact of our choices:  what something is made of, how it’s made, how it got here, and what we do when we’re done with it.