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