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A Truly Eco-friendly Plastic Alternative: Paper Grocery Bags

grocery bagsAs the world becomes more concerned with the health and state of nature, the popularity of alternative grocery and shopping bags has skyrocketed. More and more stores are decreasing, if not stopping, the use of conventional plastic bags because these bags are non-biodegradable and contribute greatly to the amount of non-decomposable waste. Shopping malls and stalls are thus switching to one or a combination of three main alternative grocery bags: biodegradable plastic bags made with materials that decompose faster than conventional plastic bags, reusable or multipurpose cloth bags, and paper grocery bags.

In Depth: Alternative Grocery Bags

Biodegradable plastic bags are made with what are commonly called as bioplastics. These bioplastics are produced from renewable materials unlike conventional plastic bags which are produced from fossil fuels considered to be non-renewable. Some chemicals used for bioplastics are taken from plants while some are pure chemical additives. The former is preferred over the latter since it is still more environmental friendly. Plastic bags made with biodegradable materials decompose over a shorter period of time when compared against conventional bags. While traditional plastic bags take 500 years to decompose, alternative grocery bags made with bioplastics like "Oxo Biodegradable" (OBD) plastic will only take 1 to 2 years to decompose if exposed to enough oxygen. However, unlike paper grocery bags, OBD plastics will not decompose in a landfill environment.

Another alternative grocery bag is multipurpose or reusable cloth bags. From the name itself, these bags are made with cloth and fabric and are produced in the same way that clothes are made. Cloth bags can be reused an unlimited number of times. The down side to this alternative, however, is the cost of buying a multipurpose grocery bag. To the regular consumer, a reusable bag is much more expensive than simply using plastic bags (biodegradable or non-biodegradable). To address this, some stores offer a discount for consumers who bring their own reusable shopping bags. Other establishments offer their loyal shoppers a free cloth bag bearing their stores' names to encourage its use, or give free cloth bags when customers reach a certain spending limit.

The last grocery bag alternative is the paper grocery bag. This is the more common replacement that shopping malls and retail stores have resorted to given the call to reduce plastic usage and wastage. The key advantage of this alternative is that paper has the shortest decomposition time. A single paper bag will decompose in only three to four weeks. This is light years away from the 500 years needed for a single plastic bag to decompose, and still much better than the one to two year period needed for OBD plastic decomposition.

Main Types of Paper Grocery Bags

Just like plastic bags, shopping bags made of paper also come in different varieties. The varieties discussed here are based on the number and types of layers used during production. There are three main varieties: single layer, pure paper multilayer, and multilayer paper grocery bags with chemical additives. As the name suggests, single layer bags are made with a single layer of paper. These types of paper bags are used for carrying light items. For example, alternative bags used to carry bread, single item purchases, and the like are usually single layer paper grocery bags. These are not advisable for use in carrying multiple and heavy items and when doing bulk grocery shopping. This is why single layers are often used by bread shops, bakeries, cafes, and small convenience stores. Large groceries often also carry single layers along with multilayer bags for use in when a customer purchases a few light items. On the other hand, pure multilayer paper grocery bags are fit for use to carry heavier loads or more items. As such, these bags can be found in medium to large convenience, grocery, and department stores. These are more durable than single layers but are still not waterproof. As such, wet products such as cold or frozen meats cannot be carried in pure multilayer bags.

This is where multilayer bags with chemical additives come to play. In order to make the bags waterproof, paper is either laminated or coated with chemical additives that render the paper grocery bag waterproof. This third type of paper bags are usually carried in stores that sell wet products such as large grocery stores, and meat shops. Multilayer bags with additives, however, decompose a little longer than pure single and multilayer bags. It takes an additional two to three weeks for waterproof paper grocery bags to decompose.