Paper or Plastic? | Teen Ink

Paper or Plastic? MAG

By Sophia Aguilar, Medford, NJ

An estimated 100,000 marine animals perished last year as a result of litter in our oceans. Our demand for convenience and general lack of concern for our world’s plight are disturbing and destructive. With space in landfills rapidly diminishing and oceans continually being clogged with endless amounts of garbage, it is obvious we need to do something. Did you know that the problem is so acute off the coast of Africa that an industry exists in which natives harvest plastic bags and weave them into hats and shawls? They collect an average of 30,000 bags a month. The enormous environmental fingerprint left by our natural resource consumption could be significantly reduced if we would simply reuse.

To begin with, a common misconception should be addressed. Paper bags are not the safer, more economical, and overall better choice for the environment. They require four times more energy to produce, and, in fact, plastic bags create 80 percent less solid waste, 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and 50 times less waterborne waste during production than paper bags.

Yes, brown bags are biodegradable, but they are filling our diminishing landfill space and cost more to produce. It is a commonsense situation – if the store owner wants to save money (and resources), he will buy the item that costs less, which in this case is plastic bags. Unfortunately, our negligence in recycling bags costs marine animals their lives and our earth its future.

Speaking of plastic, the average plastic bottle takes about 450 years to break down, and even then, plastic never biodegrades. Americans will buy an estimated 25 million single-serving water bottles this coming year. And all the bottles we don’t feel like recycling will end up being our country’s (or another’s) problem, since much of our trash is now being shipped overseas.

Let’s face it, humans are lazy. Two million seven hundred thousand tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year – that’s 15 million barrels of oil in the U.S. alone. In 1990, Americans bought 1.1 billion pounds of plastic; in 2003, we bought more than three times that. Ironically the quality of bottled water, as it has been proven, is no better than tap water. The cost for the consumer is unnecessary as well – $11 billion was spent on eight billion gallons of water last year alone.

Unfortunately, trying to reuse plastic water bottles is unwise. The water is bottled in PETE bottles which are known to leach carcinogens and potential hormone disruptors if used more than once. Chemicals linked to them have been connected with a variety of disorders from obesity to breast cancer. And, plastic bottles are also nearly exempt from FDA approval if sold within state boundaries – impurities can be left to fester in the silence. Because we’re pushing for convenience, we’re butchering our environment, hurting our bodies, and all the while throwing away our hard-earned money. That’s a lot of blood on our hands.

Plastic bags, however, are almost the worst object to use in environmental terms, and it takes no ecologist to understand the implications of our imprudent use of this everyday commodity. Plastic bags buried in landfills can take up to 1,000 years to break down, but not before breaking into smaller and smaller toxic pieces that pollute our environment. It is estimated that 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are used annually in our world – that’s a shameful (and rough) one million per minute. One hundred billion of those bags are utilized by the U.S. According to a study conducted by the BBC, only one in 200 plastic bags in the U.K. is recycled. In fact, discarded bags have become such common litter that they are now one of the top 12 trash items found on beaches.

In the U.S., plastic bag recycling rates (in actual recycling facilities) are extremely low. Between one and three percent of bags end up being recycled. This problem is partially a result of economic wastefulness. According to the Christian Science Monitor, it takes $4,000 to process and recycle plastic that would be resold on the commodities market for $32. Many would ask what the point would be in that.

Furthermore, plastic production is an enormous gas guzzler. While we’re grumbling about huge cars, let’s discuss the environmental catastrophe posed by plastic bags, the production of which requires a large usage of petroleum and natural gas. Yet what is the best solution? What can you do? The solution: BYOB – bring your own bag! Polyester or nylon or a handbag, whatever it may be, with this seemingly small effort, you will be helping to save the environment from greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and the waste of our valuable resources.

Statistics don’t lie – we are dealing with an enormous economic and environmental crisis that is now lounging on our doorstep. Our use of the ever-convenient brown bags, plastic bottles, and plastic bags is virtually annihilating our posterity’s chance at a healthy, safe earth. By making simple changes, we can reduce our wastefulness. As Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson once said, “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for the future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Who now will take the stand?

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This article has 8 comments.

on Feb. 4 2011 at 4:41 pm
Chibbie1 PLATINUM, Atlanta, Georgia
38 articles 8 photos 181 comments

Favorite Quote:
Reach for the the moon for if you fail you land amongst the stars :)

I completely agree with you. I love your article. Great Job!

416tmw BRONZE said...
on Oct. 28 2010 at 11:50 am
416tmw BRONZE, Plaquemine, Louisiana
2 articles 0 photos 4 comments
This article is so true. Th

seximiki16 said...
on Jan. 5 2010 at 9:31 am
wow.dis is fabulous.i kant belive it.great fuking job guys. yaaaaa

on Jun. 29 2009 at 2:56 pm
I have been trying to persuade my family and friends to recycle for years; some do, but many don't. If we don't become aware of our limited resources and pollution that has been caused, our world will soon be a trash dump. Thank you so much for this article; it is really well-written and contains valuable information.

on Jun. 27 2009 at 12:56 am
PoeticRamblings GOLD, Woodbridge, Virginia
16 articles 0 photos 8 comments

Favorite Quote:
Facts may be true, but there are very few people who dare to speak the truth.

A wonderful example of persausive writing! This has helped me a lot!

on Apr. 8 2009 at 6:48 pm
Thank you so much! Not only is this article well written, I really appreciate the content and intend to use it in my lesson plans for 9th grade English.

Again, thank you.

An English teacher. GOLD said...
on Mar. 7 2009 at 7:44 pm GOLD, Las Vegas, Nevada
14 articles 6 photos 23 comments
Great, great job! This was very interesting to read

clementine said...
on Nov. 9 2008 at 6:35 am
This article is AMAZING, and really puts things into perspective. Not only did it give me a guilt trip about getting a plastic bag last week at the grocery store (twice), but it warned about the effects of plastic bottles. I had NO idea that they shouldn't be used more than once. I've been reusing plastic bottles for years because I thought it was the environmentally-savvy thing to do, but I'm going to stop now. Thank you so much for your article; I sent it to many of my friends who are rather slack about saving the environment.