Paper or Plastic, The Truth About Grocery Bags- Guest Post

The Truth about Grocery Bags: The Best Way to Save Money and the Environment

When you are at the grocery store, do you really pay attention when they ask you, “Paper or plastic?” What are they really asking you? It’s kind of like asking someone which way do you want to be tortured, by electric shock or waterboarding? What I’m getting at is that grocery stores don’t offer you much of a choice when it comes to how you want to carry your groceries out of the store, and both choices are bad.

The paper bag myth

First, it is a myth that paper bags are more eco-friendly than plastic bags. In fact, the exact opposite it true. Plastic bags are much more environmentally friendly than paper bags. For instance, did you know that it takes over 4 times as much energy to produce a paper bag than it does to produce a plastic bag? In addition, in 1999, 14 million trees were cut down to make 10 billion paper grocery bags in the US. And manufacturing paper bags produces substantially more air and water pollutants than manufacturing plastic bags. (Figures courtesy of

But paper bags are recyclable and biodegradable, right? Nope. It takes more energy to recycle a paper bag than it does to recycle a plastic one, and in today’s landfills—because of lack of oxygen and water—paper bags don’t break down either. And plastic bags take up less room.

But that doesn’t mean plastic is the solution to the world’s problems. Making plastic still releases toxic chemicals into the air (although not as much as making paper bags). And, scientifically speaking, no one really knows if plastic will ever breakdown and biodegrade. For all we know, plastic bags could show up like dinosaur fossils in the geologic record 40 million years from now.

Plastic saves you money

However, plastic bags are the lesser of two evils and they can save you money as well. Plastic bags can be reused many times before they break. They can be used as lunch bags or for carrying other items around town, and they also work great as small trash can liners instead of buying more garbage bags—not to mention they work great as car trash bags—all saving you money.

What about cloth?

However, plastic bags are still not the best way to save the environment or your pocketbook. The best way to save both is to use reusable cloth bags when you go the grocery store. Cloth bags can be reused for years without breaking, saving hundreds—if not thousands—of harsh chemicals from being released into the air and saving even more room in landfills. Not only that, but making your own mesh bags for produce can actually keep your fresh fruits and veggies from going bad as quickly, keeping food longer and saving you money in the long-run. In addition, some stores, like Whole Foods and Target will actually discount your total purchase if you bring your own reusable bags to carry your food in.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, and you hear the familiar, “Paper or plastic?,” you’ll know what to do—whip out your own reusable cloth bag and say, “Neither, thanks. I’ve brought my own.”

Diane Johnson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in political science. When she’s not traveling she enjoys writing articles about online colleges, reading books, and shopping.


I'm a mother of 2 who likes to get involved in too much! Besides writing here I started a non-profit, I'm on the PTO board, very active in my community and volunteer in the school. I enjoy music, reading, cooking, traveling and spending time with my family. We just adopted our 3rd cat and love them all!

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  1. blueviolet says:

    I had no idea paper was no better than plastic. Good thing I have my own totes!

    I also marked them to be sure I'm not putting meat and produce in the same bags from shopping trip to shopping trip. I don't want to contaminate my produce with meat drippings.