Paper vs Plastic Comparison

full of vegatables cotton shopping bag carried by a human hand

Paper vs Plastic: Don’t Rely on Intuition

The classic paper vs. plastic bag debate is an excellent opportunity to showcase the ability of subjective data to tell a story that may be counterintuitive to most. Often times, consumers who want to support environmentally responsible products rely on their perceptions of the product throughout the retail, consumer, and disposal phases of the product’s life cycle. The issue with that approach is that those phases of the life cycle are an incomplete picture. Cradle-to-cradle thinking is essential to accurately evaluate the impacts of a consumer product. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a very effective tool at head-to-head quantification of environmental burdens throughout the entire life cycle of a product. Luckily, many LCAs have been conducted on paper vs. plastic bags, and the unanimously point towards a single plastic bag being more sustainable than a single paper bag.

Consumers are in a unique position to cast their vote with every dollar they spend. With each trip around the sun, the public becomes more willing to pay a premium for a product that they view as the responsible choice. Responsible bag selection has always been a challenge, but hopefully some of the numbers provided in the infographic summary below will help you the next time you head to the store. If you’re the responsible type who can consistently remember a reusable bag, then that option makes the most sense for a variety of reasons. For the many consumers that ‘convenience is king’, choosing plastic over paper is usually the responsible choice. Sadly, making responsible consumption choices isn’t always intuitive. That paradox is what inspired Paradigm Sustainability to engage in science based solutions for companies who want a competitive advantage.

handout comparing paper vs plastic


About the author:


Eric Boles is one of the founding principals of Paradigm Sustainability.  You can find out more about Paradigm on our website.