http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_YiTgrQPKgLM/TSHZSffe73I/AAAAAAAABeo/vFr8biJOuXk/s1600/plastic-bag-no.jpg

I’ve been seeing a number of web sites that seem to make it clear that plastic bags are actually greener than paper bags. But I’m wondering if there is an advantage to plastic that no one has mentioned, carbon sequestration.

Critics say that one of the disadvantages of plastic bags is that they will last “1000 years”. Plastic bags that biodegrade faster however end up releasing carbon dioxide back into the environment contributing to global warming. It seems to me that if they buried plastic bags in places where they won’t degrade they could take carbon permanently out of the environment. 2 birds – 1 stone.

What am I missing?




  1. bbjester says:

    At the moment I use old plastic bags as trash can liners. Some stores have bins set up to deposit them for proper recycling. Makes me sick to see them blowing around in the wind; litterbugs suck! If bio-degradable ones were produced people would probably complain though. Anyone who remembers the whole Sun Chips debacle will know what I am talking about. For those that don’t… Basically Frito Lay started packaging its Sun Chips line in bio-degradable bags. A few months later they announced they would be going back to the old packaging. Nothing was inherently wrong with the functionality of the bio-bags. They did however crinkle a little louder than the old ones. Due to much consumer complaining that the bags made too much noise, Frito Lay pulled the plug on the bio-bags. And I really, really wish that I was making that $h1t up. I am afraid that it speaks volumes about the selfish dark side of human nature.

  2. Benjamin says:

    I call BS on the fact that cloth bags carry salmonella. Food comes in packaging: light cardboard, or plastic bags. Even produce gets put in plastic bags. No actual food touches the insides of my cloth bags. I don’t carry produce loose in them.

  3. Skeptic says:

    Re #28, ±
    I know bobbo was trying to rattle my cage a little, but that’s ok. I’m sure the religious folk here don’t like some of my comments /opinions on religion.

    AGW? that’s why I originally took the name Skeptic. Although we do put a lot of carbon into the air (compared to other animals), and I’m sure it must have some effect (positive and/or negative and/or a little or a lot), it appears to me that the ugliest qualities of politics, greed and fame have infected the science of Climatology. I don’t trust any of them, and their political counterparts. Climate is changing as it always does, and all predictions of dire consequences (avoiding positive predictions of course) from the well organized AGW pundits have fallen short or dissipated completely. I’m actually sick of arguing about it and I’ll just wait for the other shoe to drop. The world can’t just instantly stop using oil, we are too dependent. Alea iacta est.

  4. Mr Fog says:

    # 33 Skeptic

    the religion of Climatology

  5. rick says:

    Here’s what I don’t get. I buy a bagged item at a store, and the clerk sticks it into another bag.

    Buy a ballpoint pen, and you get it stuffed in a bag and handed to you.

    Buy a box of bandaids, each bandaid individually wrapped, and the group of bandaids inside a sealed box….the clerk puts that into a bag.

  6. bobbo, in Repose says:

    Skeptic–I suppose you can read in what you wish and further that there is a little bit of everything in everything we do?

    I can’t go around challenging people most of the time and not be charged with it most of the time. Your mileage (most) will vary.

    It is interesting that the different grades of oil can be pumped out of the ground, refined, and the different uses all get used up? I’d think there should be some fraction of it that just gets thrown away–or burned up most likely as a low grade boiler fuel?

    Not a rattle, but a reminder to all that America wastes 70% of our energy on vampire/standby devices. Its a waste.

    This thread does raise some interesting facets of the costs/benefits of sequestering carbon, pro’s and con’s, but enough rattling.

  7. Drifter Smith says:

    What is missing, as others have observed, is the use of reusable (usually cloth) bags – which can serve for many years and trips to the store.

    I made my wife a few maybe 25 years ago, long before they became ubiquitous; those original bags [made with recycled material!] are still in use. And of course they do get washed once in awhile.

    We still get plastic bags from time to time, and use them to line the trash can at the end of their life. Or as trash bags on camping trips, etc…

    I also get more of these [now ubiquitous] reusable cloth bags at the local Goodwill thrift store [for $1.49/lb!], which I use instead of the plastic bags they provide.

    Seems that some people don’t hang on to the reusable bags very long – so it is possible to acquire them for next to nothing, and return them to service after they have been discarded.

    I have lots of them, some of which are used for food and some for other stuff… And I try to keep a couple on the front seat of my vehicle, where they’ll get used the next time I need them.

    In any event: regardless of the type of bag, they all get used until they are no longer usable…they don’t get thrown away while they are still good for something. And when they do get thrown away, they are full of trash – not IN the trash.

    [We also reuse paper bags, recycle them only after they are no longer of any use.]

    Another thing: if I don’t need a bag, I mention it at the point of sale and carry stuff away in my hands, without the extra packaging. Just seems like common sense to me….

  8. MikeN says:

    Whole Foods switched to paper bags. Before that I use to use their bags as trash liner. Now that they switched to paper bags, I need to get another plastic bag as trash liner, and one bag to throw away the Whole Foods paper bag. Plus Whole Foods used larger stronger bags than the typical grocery store, so it was as good as two of those. So that meant a switch to paper bags ended up with my using 3 bags for every one bag replaced with paper.

  9. MikeN says:

    Plastic bags vs paper is meaningless in terms of carbon sequestration, if you are worried about global warming.

    According to one site, each kg of plastic creates 6kg of CO2 emissions, and they estimate 30g weight per bag. They also list 35KG per year plastic produced per person worldwide. So that is about 250 billion KG per year. 35% of that is packaging, so 85 billion KG per year produced, yields 510 billion KG of carbon emissions, which is 510 megatons, which is 1.5%, a higher number than I expected. Now, this is mitigated by 2 factors. One, packaging doesn’t mean just plastic bags, so the percentage is reduced here by some unknown amount. Also, the 6KG CO2 emissions per KG is production and incineration. If the plastic bag is being sequestered, then the number drops by a factor of 3. So you are down to a max of .5% of carbon emissions.

  10. Skeptic says:

    Re:#36, Bobbo, I don’t mind being challenged (rattled) It’s the spice of threads like DU. If we all agreed this would be a boring place and it probably wouldn’t survive as a blog. You do make a good point that we waste a lot of electricity on standby devices.

    What I really don’t understand is the circuitry of delivering all that power. I’ve tried to look this up with little success. What happens to the excess power generated minute by minute. Let’s say the demand in area A is hovering around 10000 to 12000 kilowatts. The power company has to deliver say 13000 kilowatts as insurance against spikes. What happens to all the unused power? Is it wasted?

    Where I live, the power company advertised a lot to save power. They exchanged old Christmas lights with free leds, they encouraged people to turn off lights, and doled out incentives buy CFL’s, etc, etc. Well it worked so well that they had to raise our electricity rates by 30% to cover a corresponding drop in revenue. The same thing happened with our water. Everyone was asked to conserve, lawns were left browning in the summer, and the water rates went up suddenly to cover the drop in revenue. To emphasize this, there is no shortage of water here as we have had 10 years of higher than average rainfall, too wet for some farmers.

  11. greyangel says:

    “If you can argue that stable plastic bags are good you could also perhaps argue that the bodies of dead children decompose and release greenhouse gases so therefore children are bad.”

    I would definitely make that argument. It’s how we got into this mess in the first place. Not that I’m a sociopath but we are long past healthy population maintenance levels. Nobody should be having more than one child per adult. Eventually we would decline to healthy number of human beings and life would stop loosing its meaning. Over population is a sick population.

  12. bobbo, in Repose says:

    #40–Skeptic==I have the same questions. For instance: if you plug a voltage converter into the wall is it using electricity all the time or only when it is converting electricity? seems to me the answers I have found in the past are all over the place and maybe it does depend on the “design” of the unit?

    I also am not clear on a units ability to draw only the electricity it needs from a more powerful source vs get overloaded and blow up. Is that purely DC vs AC or will DC blow up as well?

    Electricity is still a mystery.

    Regarding your rates going up==thats EXACTLY how it should work. Your net expense should be the same: less used at a higher rate = same expense==unless you didn’t modify your behavior. Thats exactly what you should want to have happen otherwise you reduce your overall cost/use but energy hogs will not.

    If its true that USA is 30% efficient while Japan is approaching 90%, I’m afraid our government should get all nanny state on our irresponsible asses.

    Who doesn’t think it is true?

  13. MikeN says:

    Speaking of power grid, anyone worried about the changing of frequencies?

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/25/it-hertz-when-you-do-that-power-grid-to-stop-regulating-60-hz-frequency/

  14. sargasso_c says:

    Bury a plastic bag in soil for 10 years. I have. It wasn’t good as new. Or put rocks in one and leave it in a desert for a decade.

  15. Skeptic says:

    Re: Bobbo #42, “Regarding your rates going up==thats EXACTLY how it should work. Your net expense should be the same: less used at a higher rate = same expense==unless you didn’t modify your behavior. Thats exactly what you should want to have happen otherwise you reduce your overall cost/use but energy hogs will not.”

    That would be true if it were a level playing field. Unfortunately, it’s mostly the poor and middle class who took the advice of reducing power use at every tiny opportunity to save money, because the economy sucks, the cost of living has skyrocketed due to the cost of crude. The promise of saving $ was short lived… a lie.

    The rich just go merrily along sucking up energy without a second thought. A couple of 50″ TV’s, satelite disnh, 2 stoves, air conditioning running night and day even when the temp outside is cool enough to open the windows, 4 cars in the driveway, a pool with the pump and filter running all summer, an outsuide hot tub, every kind of electronics you can think of ALL on standby if they have it.

    So the poor suckers who work shitty jobs for little pay sacrificed what little luxury the had and paid dearly for their effort. That is the bottom line.

    The same thing is happening with the price of gasoline. In the past year it has increased 10% above the normal crude/gasoline price ratio. There a lot of complaints… and a lot of excuses, none of which hold water. Stock piles are high, even the recent release of crude into the market did nothing to the price of crude. Why? I’ll bet you that the movement from gas guzzlers (mostly by the poor and middle class) to “fuel-efficient” glamorized tinfoil golf carts is cutting into sales by 10%.

    Gotta keep the shareholders happy.

  16. GregAllen says:

    >> Benjamin said, on June 27th, 2011 at 8:23 pm
    >> I call BS on the fact that cloth bags carry salmonella. Food comes in packaging: light cardboard, or plastic bags.

    You can call “BS” but it did seem like a real study at two different universities.

    What was not clear was how much e.coli and coliform bacteria is on there. I’m guessing not much.

  17. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  18. Taxed Enough Already Dude says:

    Five to One ration when wnloading groceries with paper bags, rather than plastic.

    Hence, five times the co2 emmissions.

    In addition, when folks like Mr. Fusion shop, theres lots of extra methane they quietly secrete into the enviorment.

  19. I guess you’d have to dig to the earth’s core if you’d expect plastic not to degrade 😛

  20. I was talking to another friend whose daughter has a school project about plastic carriers or bags. They had this social experiment on whether people realize that plastic bags are indeed harmful to the environment as compared to paper bags. It was surprising to note that many consider plastic bags to be a little friendly as they could recycle it to be used for many other purposes like using these for the trash bin and the like. But little do they know that these bags are not meant for such and should be disposed properly, if not stop using at all. Most of the groups in school proposed that there should be alternative carriers that should be introduced in the market.

  21. junaid says:

    plastic bags in not good for environment because they have led to a great increase in the pollution levels.and Produces a highly toxic fume when burnt.


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