Whole Foods, which, for those of you who don't have one, is the world's largest eco-healthy food store, has just promised to completely stop using plastic bags. And while I like that they're, y'know, considering these things, it turns out that their logic may be faulty.
So I decided to do a little research, and it turns out, the greenest thing about paper bags is the way people perceive them. Because they seem more natural, people think they're better for the environment. Well, it's a damn shame, but they're wrong.
Whole Foods' moving over to 100% recycled paper is actually going to be worse for the environment.
Creating recycled paper, it turns out, is a much more energy-intensive process than creating plastic bags. That's why grocery stores prefer you take the plastic. Plastic is also much easier to ship, as it takes up way less space in packing, and they weigh far less per item of shopping you take home with you. And while we might worry that all that plastic is coming from foreign oil, the amazing thing is that even with all the billions of plastic bags we use every year, they constitute about 0.03% of our oil use in the U.S.. Obviously not the most pressing problem we've got.
There is one way in which paper bags win out: They don't harm wildlife as much. But if you think you can keep a handle on your bags, and not leave them to get blown into the ocean, then you're better with plastic than with paper.
I'm not sure what Whole Foods is thinking...maybe they're really concerned about wildlife. Maybe they think people are more likely to re-use plastic bags. Maybe this is just the first step in getting people to switch over completely to reusable bags.
In any case, a greener measure would be to start charging people for the energy (and carbon) needed to produce disposable bags. That would give people a real incentive to (finally) stop using disposable bags.