Plastic shopping bags have advantages and disadvantages when compared to alternatives such as paper bags. All disposable bags are problematic from an energy use and disposal perspective.
The durability, strength, low cost, water and chemicals resistance, welding properties, lesser energy and heavy chemicals requirements in manufacture, fewer atmosphere emissions and light weight are advantages of plastic bags. Many studies comparing plastic versus paper for shopping bags show that plastic bags have less net environmental effect than paper bags, requiring less energy to produce, transport and recycle; however these studies also note that recycling rates for plastic are significantly lower than for paper. Plastic bags can be incinerated in appropriate facilities for waste-to-energy. Plastic bags are stable and benign in sanitary landfills. Plastic carrier bags can be reused as trash bags or bin bags.
Our main concerns with plastic shopping bags:
1. Plastic bag littering and associated indiscriminate waste disposal and consumer behavior.
2. Resource consumption issues, including reduction, reuse and recycling.
3. Plastic degradability issues relating to littering and resource use.
4. Social issues, community education and awareness, and consumer perceptions.
5. Plastic bags are made of petrochemicals, a nonrenewable resource.
6. Plastic bags are flimsy and often do not stand up as well as paper or cloth.
7. When disposed of improperly, they are unsightly and represent a hazard to wildlife.
8. Conventional plastic bags are not readily biodegradable under any normal circumstance.
9. Plastic bags can cause unsupervised infants to suffocate.