Paper vs. plastic

Paper or plastic? We hear that question everywhere where the option is available, and most of us take a second to ponder which form of container we desire.

Paper or plastic? We hear that question everywhere where the option is available, and most of us take a second to ponder which form of container we desire. Portland State students may no longer get the option of plastic, if a ban on plastic bags goes through. The Portland State Ecomerge project is a group of students currently advocating for a ban of plastic bags on the PSU campus.

The Portland State Ecomerge is an ongoing capstone course focused on ecological and economical issues and informing the public on major topics. This term, its blog has been buzzing with debates on the paper-or-plastic conundrum. Ecomerge’s ultimate goal is to ban the use of plastic bags on our campus.

To many, this debate is over within seconds. In Portland, we have been flooded with anti-plastic bag messages left and right. However, which bag is better for the environment for avoiding clutter and our landfills is actually a trickier topic than one might assume.

One problem with paper bags that some don’t consider is that they take more energy to recycle and obviously use trees in their production. This being general knowledge means that several people turned to plastic bags as the “greener” choice.

Plastic may just be a greener choice, depending upon your perspective. In some aspects, it is smarter to use plastic instead of paper. Each year, approximately 14 million trees are cut down for the use of paper bags, according to a 2007 report by the Washington Post. The toxic chemicals that are produced during the making of paper bags contribute to air pollution, acid rain and water pollution.

Plastic bags are a byproduct of oil refining, meaning they are made from petroleum products. And after all, we are using the petroleum anyway, whether we make plastic bags or not. When considering the two options, paper bags use four times the amount of energy during their production and generate more pollution than their plastic counterparts.

However, on the other side of this argument, plastic is not the most sustainable option. Ecomerge may just be in the right to want to ban plastic bags on campus. It is estimated that 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter worldwide. According to the same Washington Post article, if the plastic bags were tied end to end, the chain would be long enough to circle the earth approximately 63 times.

Wildlife choke on plastic bags, the bags increase our demand and dependency on oil and they are not biodegradable, so they will stay in our landfills and oceans long after you or I will have left the planet. Plastic bags are also not easily recyclable.

Sure, some people say that by getting plastic bags then they can reuse them as trash bags or for other purposes, but most of the time, there is just a pile of plastic bags in the home. Several people use plastic bags to line their recycling bins, and while it is good that they are recycling, plastic bags are not supposed to be placed with recyclables.

So what does this mean? Where does this leave the paper vs. plastic debate? The answer is simple: You do not have to choose between paper and plastic; instead, the best thing to do for the environment is to invest in reusable bags—bags that can be taken to the store every trip and will hold up for years.

Several parts of the world, including Portland, have actually already passed legislation banning plastic bags. According to, the City of Portland is planning efforts to ban single-use plastic bags in the city.

With Portland State being the liberal and “green” campus that it is proud to be, it is not only important for it to ban plastic bag use on campus, but it just makes sense to start walking the walk instead of talking the talk.

PSU students need to join with PSU Ecomerge to support this plastic bag ban. It will help make the campus cleaner with less litter, and definitely more eco-friendly. The choice of paper or plastic should no longer be considered an option; reusable should be the option for all, as they benefit not only the environment, but the people who use them. ?