I have a confession to make, and I’m not proud of it. In fact I’m downright ashamed that I didn’t check my facts long ago, because I love doing research.
I thought I was doing a good thing by reusing paper grocery bags as trash bags. I thought, ‘Why buy plastic trash bags, which are derived from petroleum, when we could reuse paper grocery bags? Surely they’ll break down easily in the landfill because they’re paper.’ (That’s not an exact quote from my brain, but you get the idea.)
Oh, how wrong I was!
It turns out that paper bags not only take up more space than plastic, they also don’t get the natural resources they need to break down in landfills. And despite plastic bags originating from petroleum, producing paper bags uses up more energy and causes more pollution (not to mention the tree factor). I erroneously saw paper as the lesser of two evils. There’s an interesting chart comparing the two from the Washington Post.
However, grocers like Whole Foods are eliminating plastic grocery bags from all their stores by Earth Day, and if you don’t have reusable bags, they will use 100% recycled-content paper bags. So apparently they feel that recycled paper is the best alternative if you don’t have reusable bags, however there is contrary evidence on that.
Okay. So we know we should use cloth or reusable bags for groceries and general shopping, but there isn’t much information on what to use for your trash.
Turns out there IS no easy answer.
So, here’s our plan. Of course, one of the best things to do with your waste is to compost, which we did for many years in our previous house. We had so much going on personally and professionally after we moved last summer that we weren’t able to get it together to build a new compost bin before winter, and I didn’t feel right just making a pile in the yard (I think our neighbors already think we’re strange, so I didn’t want to stir up the pot). Once the snow is gone for good, we will make it a priority to build one and get started on a new pile.
For our non-compostable waste, I think our best option is to purchase recycled plastic trash bags. As for the paper bags we still have in the house, I don’t know, but I’ll make sure I have the facts this time to figure something out.