Friday, June 10, 2011

Paper or Plastic? by Angela Avey

Paper or Plastic? Assessing our resources and changing our culture.
Angela Avey
PHS 100A
Dr. David Terrell
Warner Pacific College
June 9, 2011

Paper or Plastic? Assessing our resources and changing our culture.
The ability to assess our natural resources is necessary for many reasons. First and foremost, the assessment can tell us how quickly we are using, damaging or producing God’s gift of priceless natural resources. The methods which can be used to measure our resources come in many different forms. After the disastrous oil spill last year in the Gulf of Mexico, dollar amounts were used to assess the damage that had been done to the immediate ecosystem and the resulting necessary cleanup efforts. But many times, as demonstrated in our first workshop, we use measurements to assess just how clean our air and water is, or how fertile the soil or dense the grow trees in the forest. Knowing how much we can use and how much we have left will enable us to take steps towards keeping our consumption of resources at a renewable level.
In researching my topic for this paper, I was overwhelmed by the amount of trees and oil we use each year to produce paper and plastic bags for use in the United States alone. I imagine the world total would be staggering. In the U.S., 14 million trees and 12 million barrels of oil are used to create bags. That is the figure for raw materials only and there are many more hazardous and unnatural components which are necessary to turn the raw materials in usable products. For instance, to create paper bags, trees must be harvested, and then moved by logging trucks or helicopters to a production factory. The trees must then be dried for up to three years in order to have the correct moisture level for manufacturing. Once they are dry, they must then be shaved of bark, chopped into pieces and mulched. This requires the use of heavy machinery which in turn uses precious fossil fuels and electricity. Sulfurous acid and limestone is then added to the mulch and the mixture is essentially cooked to the proper consistency. Bleach is another chemical which is used in the production of paper. As you can see, the result is something that we use each and every day, but at what cost?
It’s true, plastic bags take less electricity to produce than paper bags, but they are far worse for the environment once made. Not a day goes by that one cannot find a discarded plastic bag caught in a tree or wadded into a ball in a gutter. In some areas of the world, paper bags wash up on beaches like driftwood and countless numbers of marine life are killed by becoming entangled in or consuming the plastic. It’s clear that something must be done to lessen the use of these items.
Regulations for banning the use of plastic bags are not a new idea. In 2007, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban their use. Oregon is also mulling over a possible statewide ban as well, which I support. In fact, most people I know support the ban, but surprisingly there are many folks who do not support it. I know of an elderly neighbor who was furious that the bags were eliminated from our neighborhood Fred Meyer store because she walks the 12 blocks from our street to the store and back and it is difficult for her to balance heavy groceries in a paper bag while walking the distance home. I can understand this (and in fact, purchased 4 new reusable bags for her as a gift), but she is not alone in her unhappiness. The largest proponent of the ban is led by the plastic bag manufacturers, such as Hilex Poly. They have led vigorous campaigns against the state of Oregon in its attempt to bring the issue to legislators. The debate is sure to rage on as time passes and the inevitable questions are asked.
In all, it is our jobs as consumers and inhabitants of this great planet to make the right decision for our environment. This is not easy for all, but our culture must change from a nation of convenience to that of a sustainable and thoughtful society. It may not be the most convenient thing to carry your cloth bags to the store with you, but what it will do for our world will be measured in the air we breathe, the oceans we swim in and the forests we hike.

Cernansky, R. (2010, Aug. 17). How many cities have a ban on plastic bags? Retrieved from
Har, J. (2011, June 1). Oregon bill to ban plastic bags may live; situation is ‘fluid’. The Oregonian
Pirraglian, W. (2009, March 12). Paper vs. plastic – which is better? Retrieved from
Thompson, A. (2007, May 7). Paper or plastic – what’s the greener choice? Retrieved from

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