REPLACING PAPER BAGS: Recycling doesn't solve the paper problem

Recycling one ton of paper can save 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, and 380 gallons of oil. So why not just use paper bags and just be sure they are always recycled? Isn’t this as good as finding a more sustainable way to replace our paper bags?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

As recycling and recycled paper usage becomes more common it can be a justification for choices that have a greater impact on our environment then we might want to imagine.

There are big questions to consider like how much of the paper put in the recycling bin actually gets recycled, and how much of it will end up in the landfills. The fact is that if paper is wet, covered with food items, contaminated by other trash, or mixed in with paper products that aren't recyclable it could very easily not be recycled.

 Paper can be called "recycled" when only a small percentage of the fiber is actually recycled. It is important to look at the percentage of post-consumer recycled waste found in the product. Recycled paper also uses a great deal of energy---mostly from fossil fuels, chemicals, and pollutants.

Resources used in 100% post consumer recycled paper:

 (Data from the Environmental Paper Network.)

Unfortunately, recycling is still not available everywhere in the U.S. and many other countries, and much more research has to be done to see if it has truly made a positive environmental difference.

 Recycled paper is a much better option than virgin paper, but we must be careful not to rely on putting band-aids on a problem. We actually must change the problem at its source, finding sustainable alternatives to paper bags that can replace paper bags altogether and last 15 years or more!

 Some facts on recycled paper bags:

  • Most people don’t recycle their paper bags – only 10%-15% are returned to recycle.
  • Recycling paper bags still uses a lot of energy---energy that comes from nonrenewable resources such as coal, whereas most of the energy to create virgin paper comes from burning otherwise unusable parts of the trees.
  • Recycled paper bags usually only contain a portion of recycled materials along with virgin paper.
  • Recycling paper bags also uses a lot of chemicals as the paper must first be re-pulped, which usually requires a chemical process involving compounds like hydrogen peroxide, sodium silicate, and sodium hydroxide which bleach and separate the pulp fibers.
  • Paper bags can only be recycled up to seven times. Compare that with the alternative: Reusing a high quality sustainable cloth bag about 10,000 times in its lifetime.

Check out this great video: "The Secret Life of Paper" – A Project of INFORM, Inc.


Explore what is in the way of finding ways to replace paper bags with more sustainable bags





 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Common knowledge now expounds the great wisdom of first reducing consumption, second reusing those things we have consumed, and third buying things that have been and can be recycled.

The reason recycling is third on the list is because it is least effective environmentally of the three.

For example, a paper bag can be recycled 4-7 times,

A high quality alternative to paper bags, such as a reusable hemp bag, can be reused about 10,000 times, hence proportionately reducing the environmental impact. This is a HUGE difference!


There is just no way around it.... if we truly want to lower our impact on the planet we must find ways to reduce and reuse as much as possible and as often as possible!

Making this change will not only support the environment, it will also help us move towards simplicity in our lives and in our surroundings.



We are a woman-owned business whose vision is two-fold: to make a difference through what we do and how we do it. It is not easy to better our selves or our world, but we know the two go hand in hand. Our bags have taken us to the very brink of an ultimate question: what is true personal and planetary sustainability and what changes do we need to make to get from here to there? We hope to inspire such a journey of questioning for others as we’re all in the same boat together. (Learn more)

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