The merits of brown paper bags — especially when compared to their increasingly unpopular plastic counterparts — are widely touted. In fact, many locales are flirting with enacting plastic bag bans, mandating grocers to use paper bags exclusively. All of this is based on their impact on the environment, or lack thereof. However, there are a few disadvantages that accompany their qualities, and it is for now up to the consumer to decide which is best.
Not only are brown paper bags recyclable, 70 percent of the "new" bags you receive at a store are made from recycled paper themselves. Plastic bag recycling is much more complicated and not as efficient. If you choose not to reuse your paper bags, you don't have to feel guilty about doing so since you know that even if you don't recycle it, the fact remains that they are biodegradable.
One area where plastic bags are more efficient is durability. They can usually carry more weight than their paper counterparts, and they aren't as vulnerable to water damage. Plus, even though paper bags have more volume, the fact remains that you can only carry about two at a time. With plastic bags, you can carry as many as you can fit around your grip in your hands and not be as concerned with tearing or breakage.
Brown paper bags have a variety of uses after you bring them home. You can bring them back to the store to bag future orders, for starters. However, they also have many practical applications around the house. You can use them as compost or recycling bags, storage containers or even for the handy carrying of goods to someone else's house if you are bringing dinner over.
While paper bags are better for the environment in their final form, their manufacture is actually not as eco-friendly. In fact, the incorporation of the polyethylene used in the making of plastic bags uses far less energy than it does with the recycled fibers used in paper bags. This is quantified in terms of energy consumption and pollution.