Paper or Plastic?

Anonymous asked this question on 1/8/2001:

What are the pros and cons of using paper and plastic products?If you could choose only what would it be? Why?

JesseGordon gave this response on 1/9/2001:

I concur with 's response and it's a good shot at basic "life cycle analysis." But I think you'd be hard-pressed to ever find an environmentalist who would choose plastic over paper.

While it's true that producing paper has energy costs, and it's true that some plastics can be recycled, this issue is mostly about perception.

The perception is that using paper is more "natural," more recycling-oriented, and more in tune with the envrionmental movement. And the perception is that using plastic is more "artificial," more consumption-oriented, and more in tune with business-over-nature.

It doesn't really matter that most of the perception isn't really true. Recyclling itself is almost all perception -- it simply doesn't save much in the way of natural resources. But the perception is that recycling does a lot, and that perception IS important -- because it makes people more aware of environmental needs and issues.

The same applies to paper vs. plastic -- no, in reality, it doesn't really affect anything one way or the other. But I will never leave a store with a plastic bag, because I want to remind myself to minimize my consumption, and using plastic feels consumptive. And I want the store clerks to be aware that not every customer wants to use, use, use, just because it's freely available ("Are you SURE you don't want a bag?" is the usual way that's expressed). And finally, I want the store owner to give customers a choice of less consumptive materials, and the only way to do that is to demand it, so I do.

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