Almost everyday I see a new commercials saying “No more plastic, we switched to paper [straws/bags/whatever]!” I understand that it’s good to not use plastic, but won’t this contribute to cutting down more trees and hurt our environment as well?



Almost everyday I see a new commercials saying “No more plastic, we switched to paper [straws/bags/whatever]!” I understand that it’s good to not use plastic, but won’t this contribute to cutting down more trees and hurt our environment as well?

In: Earth Science

While cutting down trees is in theory bad, most forests in developed countries are managed forests deliberately grown for the wood, so each tree that is cut down is replace by another one. Other materials are also being use include jute bamboo and other rapidly growing plants.

Trees regrow fairly quickly, particularly the types that are farmed for commercial use in the US.

Arguably increase forestry product use is good, or at least neutral, for the environment as it requires a larger area of forest to be planted to keep up with the demand and the increased demand keeps forestry land more economically viable.

While the land is producing its mostly left alone and provides habitat, albeit not quite as good as old growth forests.

If the land can’t be profitably used for forestry it’ll get turned over to a use it is profitable for – often stuff like farming or housing, which both wipe out the forest habitat entirely.

Trees can be regrown. In fact, a lot of lumber and lumber byproducts are from cultivated trees.

I work for a paper company and we only harvest trees in sustainable methods regardless of whether or not the final product requires the chain of custody certification. Our facilities are in the UP of Michigan. We only cut into a forest once every 15 years. We cut rows about 20 feet wide (the width of the harvester) and trim the logs on site to feed the forest floor. We allow nature to fill back the space to provide a mixed forest habitat. Roads, farms, etc have stopped fires in those areas so thinning these forests occasionally is crucial to their health. We are also clearing out the monoculture forests that we’re planted as cash crops in the last century. Typically our timber rights contracts are for 100 years.

tl;dr = yes, paper bag manufacturing is bad for the environment.

Firstly, studies have shown that the buying of plastic bags dramatically increased since the widespread disuse at supermarkets (often purposed for trash and things like picking up dog poop), esp. 4 gallon bags which use more/thicker plastic.

Secondly, studies on climate change have shown that trees aren’t as viable a solution as people believe. For starters, overheated forests often release more carbon than they absorb. Overall, forests can’t really begin to help solve the climate crisis until we first stop emitting. (And even then, climate scientists are now arguing that even if we stopped all fossil fuel emissions today it’s already too late, and the effects of over a century of intense greenhouse gas emissions would outlast even their disuse.)

Then there’s the reality that a huge number of tree planting projects have been done without proper foresight as to their greater impact. Certain tree planting projects have been executed in highly problematic geographic terrains. A massive U.K. project was done in a peat bog, dried out the soil and led to thousands of years worth of carbon being released. Furthermore, people ignorantly plant hundreds of thousands of invasive species which have no business proliferating in certain regions and end up having disastrous ecological impact.

Paper bags *are* actually bad for the environment, as is plastic in general. They require cutting down and processing trees, which involves lots of water, toxic chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery. Not only is manufacturing paper bags more energy-intensive, the product is heavier therefore it requires more energy spent on transport.
Just do the research.

And I laugh at business that claim to be eco-friendly yet still use massive amounts of paper for receipts.

So as it turns out, the only coherent and honest thing that’s good for the environment would be to cease liberal/industrial ideology and end consumerism.

There are literally trillions of trees, and we can replant them.

There are literally more trees on Earth than stars in the visible universe.

And one tree supplies for thousands of different products, in the case of things like paper literally thousands of reams of it.

Compare and contrast to the damage caused and the chemistry involved in creating plastic from oil from the ground.

Trees are a far better resource for this, but they aren’t the very cheapest, hence they have gone out of fashion recently in favour of cheap-but-damaging oil. Now that environmental damage is added back into the cost, trees actually win out. Even if it means we have to replant as we go.

When wood is burned or rots, CO2 is released, bad. But when trees grow, they absorb CO2, good. It turns out this pretty much balances out. This makes paper and wood effectively carbon neutral.

In fact, you can keep the wood around for a long time (in buildings, or other long term uses), then that CO2 is kept out of the atmosphere for decades or even centuries, all the while growing new trees to pull more CO2.

I turned organic waste into edible landscapes, [Here]( is an image album of one of my projects.

I can not do anything with plastics, using a packaging that lasts for a thousands years for a single serving is kind of silly. If all our packaging was made from organic materials, we could literally be feeding our forests and ecosystems with it, zero waste.

Trees today are farmed, the same way you woukd grow corn or wheat (although it takes trees more time to grow). Calculating the actual environmental impact of plastic vs paper products is kind of complicated when you include natural resources, energy use, and recycling. Paper straws break down in weeks while plastic takes years, which is why places switch.

The reason plastic bags became a thing in the first place was due to deforestation in part. As is commonly said, if you do not learn from the past you are doomed to repeat it. Yes procedures and methods have improved, but I personally don’t believe switching back to paper bags is a good thing.

It may, but there are two main reasons that paper is better for the environment. The first is that paper waste does not have negative environmental effects. If you take a paper towel and put it in a landfill it will break down and biodegrade, and if an animal eats it it won’t really be hurt. However plastics do not biodegrade, it’s estimated that a plastic bottle would take 450 years to break down. In addition if an animal were to consume it they could be seriously hurt.

The other is that paper products can be recycled easily, while plastic cannot. You can basically take paper and turn it into other paper. In fact the paper bags you get at a grocery store or McDonald’s are usually at least partially made from recycled paper.

Now this is when most people think “wait, but you can recycle plastic.” However it turns out that is not really true. National Public Radio (NPR) and PBS Frontline did an investigation, released last year, that revealed that the idea that plastic would/could be recycled was a [lie]( Plastic is made from petrochemicals, essentially from oil. So oil and gas companies lied and told people that the majority of plastic could and would be recycled to get people to buy more plastic, so they could make more money, despite this not being true. Most of the plastic you “recycle” is just buried underground.

In addition most paper companies employ forestry experts, and those that use wood from natural forests, at least in the USA, are not going to be clear cutting. So you can get paper in a very sustainable way. There’s also the possibility of paper from non-tree sources, like hemp, which can be grown and harvested with minimal environmental impact.