Paper or Plastic?

You may hear this question every time you go to the store. Though each type has its advantages, the question remains; which bag is truly the better choice?

To make paper bags, trees are marked, felled and moved from the forest, typically by trucks. After the tree is properly dried, it’s stripped of its bark, chipped and cooked under great heat and pressure. The resulting mixture is combined with limestone and acid, creating pulp that is washed, bleached and eventually rolled into paper. This entire process is very draining on natural forests and fossil fuels, and takes thousands of gallons of heated water. Even when paper bags are recycled it still takes a lot of energy and chemicals to repulp, bleach and make into paper again.

Plastic bags are a petroleum product, meaning they are made from oil — a nonrenewable resource. Plastic itself is a by-product of the oil-refining process, and uses electricity, mostly provided by coal burning, to power its production. Plastic bags make poor recyclables because to recycle them you must melt down and recast the bags, which breaks the polymer chains and weakens the new bag. Furthermore, plastic bags don’t biodegrade very well, unless they are made of 100% plant-based polymers.

While paper is recyclable, it uses massive amounts of fossil fuels and other resources to produce in the first place. As for plastic, though it uses fewer natural resources, the resources it does use are nonrenewable and it is very hard to recycle.

For the environment, your best choice for a shopping bag is neither paper or plastic, but a reusable canvas bag or other heavy-duty tote.

When you’re deciding what payment method to use, however, plastic is the clear choice. Your Chemical Bank Preferred RewardsSM Debit Card makes checkout quick and easy! To learn more about our Preferred RewardsSM Debit Card, contact our Customer Care Center at 800.867.9757 or visit