Advantages of Plastic Grocery Bags

Green plastic grocery bags on counter

It is easy to overlook the advantages of plastic grocery bags due to the perception that they are environmentally unfriendly. While they certainly have ecological drawbacks, plastic grocery bags can be beneficial to retailers, consumers, and even the environment.

Advantages of Plastic Grocery Bags for Retailers

Retailers for have favored plastic shopping bags as long as they have been available -- about 50 years. The main advantages of plastic grocery bags are that they are cost effective, easy to use and convenient to store.

Bulk Pricing for Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are available in bulk purchases at a fraction of a cent per piece. In contrast, paper bags typically cost 5 cents or more per piece. Reusable cloth bags, which are gaining in popularity as environmental sustainability becomes a more widespread concern, can cost as much as a few dollars each. In large volume, plastic bags have obvious overhead cost benefits for stores and their profit margins.

Great Marketing Tool

Plastic shopping bags provide companies with an excellent marketing tool. Printing the company logo and other company information on shopping bags is a great way to advertise a business.

Convenience of Plastic Bags

In addition, plastic bags are quicker to open, pack, and double up than paper bags. While those few seconds may seem nominal, for busy cashiers, this can help keep lines moving efficiently. Plastic bags also require less space than paper bags, both in storage and at cashier stations, and weigh about one-tenth as much. Reusable bags take up the most space, and while their weight varies, they are all considerably heavier than plastic or paper bags.

Advantages of Plastic Bags for Consumers

Conveniently enough, just as retailers have found plastic bags to be a better option than paper, so too have consumers. The numbers speak for themselves: according to the Center for Biological Diversity, Americans use 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. Penn State reports Americans use 10 billion paper shopping bags each year.

Consumer Preference

While this preference is gradually changing in light of environmental concerns and the increased use of reusable cloth bags, plastic shopping bags still offer three key benefits:

  • Plastic bags are more durable than paper bags. They are less prone to tearing, easier to carry, and are far more useful in the rain.
  • Plastic bags are reusable for a variety of purposes, with many people using them as trashcan liners or to pack and store miscellaneous items.
  • Plastic shopping bags last considerably longer than paper ones and can be rinsed out and repurposed, unlike paper bags.

Environmental Impact of Plastic Grocery Bags

There has been much disagreement over whether paper or plastic shopping bags are more detrimental to the environment. The truth is, each has advantages and disadvantages when compared to the other.

Environmental Advantages

There are several important ecological advantages of plastic grocery bags over paper shopping bags. Since they weigh so much less, they contribute far less solid waste to landfills when not recycled.

  • According to the American Chemistry Council, paper bag production requires 40%-70% more energy than the production of plastic bags.
  • Plastic bag manufacturing requires only 4% the amount of water needed to make paper bags.
  • Plastic bag manufacturing produces 70% less air pollution than paper bag production.
  • Recycling one pound of plastic takes 91% less energy than recycling one pound of paper.
  • One truck delivering plastic bags is equal to seven trucks delivering the same number of paper bags.

Effect on Marine Life

One of the more compelling arguments against the use of plastic shopping bags is that marine life commonly mistakes them for food, and that this results in the death of 100,000 marine animals and 1 million sea birds annually.

False Argument Debunked

However, this argument is false. The myth originated from a 2002 study on plastic bags (pdf) commissioned by the Australian government. In the report, the authors misquoted a previous Canadian study from 1987. The animal deaths cited were actually attributable to fishing lines and nets, not plastic bags.

Reusing Plastic Grocery Bags

Plastic grocery bags are reused at least once and in many instances more than once. There are numerous advantages to using and reusing plastic grocery bags. By recycling plastic bags, consumers can benefit from the plastic being used in a more environmentally sustainable manner.

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Advantages of Plastic Grocery Bags