The Instigator
Pro (for)
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The Contender
Con (against)
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Plastic bags are the superior grocery bag compared to paper.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/10/2014 Category: Science
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,324 times Debate No: 61526
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (2)
Votes (0)




I assert that plastic bags are the superior choice for carrying groceries when asked at any grocer or super market.

For purposes of clarification, this is specific to the regular paper or plastic bags that is in regular supply, not self purchased "green" cloth bags, or recycled fiber plastic bags, or artificial paper ones.

First round is for pleasantries and terms.
Second round is for creation of arguments.
Third round is refute only.
Fourth round is reconstruction of the case, no new arguments or new refutes.

Citations should be compiled and present in any round they are used.

Shall we spar, good sir?


All the types of bags the 'Pro' debater mentioned have specific properties and purposes. In my opinion the ultimately superior choice would be the "green" cloth bags, because they can carry solid weight and can be used repeatedly. The debate, however, focuses specifically on paper vs. plastic bags. I chose to defend the paper bags in this battle, but I will use this first round for clarification of terms. I assume we both agree, that plastic bag will carry more weight. I suggest the debate should be :

1) about choice of type of bag within weight limit that both bags qualify for
2) about cost and environmental impacts of the two
+ optional: should people pay notable price for a bag in the store, which encourages them to bring their own

In case this is not acceptable, or if you have other points in mind, feel free to declare so, I will follow and respect the terms of debate selected by you as an owner of the topic.
Debate Round No. 1


With appreciation to Con's terms regarding carrying ability, I can agree to exclude potential capacity. Being objective, if the argument is whether or not an object is too heavy for a bag, it is reasonable to forgo a paper or plastic bag, or simply use more bags (double bag, triple bag) as needed to carry the parcel. I also agree there are better options than 'paper or plastic'.

That being said, there are plenty of other qualities available on which to affirm a stance of choosing plastic over paper.

1) Durability: a plastic bag, by its nature is not nearly as susceptible to the elements. It does not require additional special papers to carry moist items, or 'double bagging' in the event of potential condensate from cold materials, it will not mold or dry out and break as fast its paper counterpart.

2) Reuse ability: this is quite different from being recycled, the concept of reusing something gives it new purpose from its creation. I have many times seen plastic bags used as a stop gap 'plug', making use of their durability beyond simple transportation of goods. I have also personally made use of a plastic bag upturned as shield against the rain, for both myself, and water-sensitive items. Lastly, again making use of the durability, plastic bags can be kept in regular collection to serve as a commodity that would normally be purchased: trash can linings. I can think of no person that would rather spend money on trash can liners than simply reuse a handful of plastic bags they have from the grocer.

3) Space: Should a number of shoppers using 1000 paper bags toss said paper bags straight into their trash can (no recycling, straight to the land fill), it would uses 9 times more space in the landfill than 1000 plastic bags. Speaking from a pre-use stand point, 1000 plastic bags vs 1000 paper bags occupies MUCH less volume for the grocer, and requires much less effort to transport. *1

4) Cost: rather than dollars and cents, I am referring to cost as a complete in vs out expenditure. The bottom line of it is that it costs less to make plastic bags *2. Less fuel, less electricity, less raw materials, the component parts of plastic bags have even been known to use by-products of natural gas harvesting. ""The polyethylene material used for conventional plastic shopping bags is made from ethane, which is the strand of natural gas that is burned off during the refining process to lower the BTU value of the gas so that the gas does not burn too hot (so it can be used as fuel in our homes" *3.

5) Environmental Impact: It has already been demonstrated that a plastic bag requires less material and energy to make. That alone should make it the superior choice. There is no reason from an enviro-friendly standpoint to think a plastic bag is some how less recyclable. A plastic bag post recycling suffers no adverse effect to its durability.

It is with these points in mind that Pro finds it resolved that a plastic bag is superior to a paper bag when this choice is presented.



1) Durability sure is an advantage, but plastic bags often fail to hold leaking contents. The bag is thin and during its usage, it's likely to get pierced or sustain small tears, and the leaking content then leaks through the bag as well. Liquid won't ruin the bag (as it is with paper bag) but it doesn't hold the liquid either, when carried around. In case of leakage, it's better to have plastic bag while carrying and paper bag when transporting, because even though the leakage destroys the paper bag, the paper helps at least a bit to absorb the liquid.

2) There are two types of plastic bags you might get in a store: a strong plastic bag with massive handles, and thin, bio-degradable one. Both can be used as small trash bag. The stronger type can be folded and kept and would serve the same purpose multiple times. The thin bag can be used too, but it's not very strong, damages quickly, (sometimes even on its own due its degradable properties), but it's wrinkly, messy to store and diffucult to fold. That's why they mostly end up in trash after first use. Paper bag technically can be reused for the original purpose too, though it's not common to see. It secondary use could be, that you can start fire with it, or use it as dust protection for documents but usually it ends up in the paper trash and can be recycled.

3) Paper doesn't go to land fill (and even if it did, it would degrade easily - depending on the chemicals contain in the paper or in its coating) . Paper per se can be recycled. And maybe they take bit more space prior to use, but not MUCH less, and also, are they are not significantly more expensive or complicated to transport.

4) Paper bags may cost more to produce, but less to recycle (and surely much higher percentage of paper bags are even recycled compared to plastics, which are usually burnt, because it's too much trouble to sort and clean). There are also costs on people's health - factory workers are exposed to toxins when these bags are produced, and also, when burnt. So if we calculate also with shorter life span of an economically productive person, sick days, and health care expenses, the economical aspect might very well be in favor of the paper bag.

5) It wasn't proven. There are recent voices that question that plastic bags are bigger burden to environment than others. Advocates of plastic bags have their own enviro-lobby, but reality is, the land and oceans are filled with waste and toxins from plastic bags. I don't have the standalone stats for plastic bags, but overall plastic waste in United States is estimated around 6.5% and 7.7% is used in waste-to-energy burning programs (2009 ^1). The rest ends up in landfills around the world where it takes 1000 years to decompose and at certain point leak toxins into soil and water. It"s estimated that there are also 100 millions tons of plastic debris floating around in the oceans threatening the health and safety of marine life. (2009). I'd like to note that plastic bags are harder to recycle (and therefore recycled in much smaller scale) than harder plastic containers as e.g. PET bottles, however, when it comes to recycling of plastic, they are never recycled in true sense - they can be transformed into other forms, but never go back to nature, like paper or compost. We're living in a plastic age. Plastic containers are cheap and massively used in several industries, but the west piles up and pollutes the world entirely, though predominantly the third world (^2) and international waters.

Sources : ^1 -
^2 -
Debate Round No. 2


From my assessment, it appears as though Con is using their time to refute rather than build their own case. At least, as an overall review of the case submitted. Since Con has opted to make their case point for point, and in some instance a refute during Con's argument phase, I will adopt a like minded rebuttal.

1) "often failed to hold leaking contents"--- Citation, please. Con concedes aspects of durability in circumstances in which Con's durability is not proven any better. A pierced bag is a pierced bag, If Con would like to submit that absorption of leaked material is a quantifiable metric in round 4, I will be enlightened. Considering the material, I believe it to be self evident that should paper being to absorb condensate, or any other material, its integrity soon becomes suspect. Such is not the case with plastic.

2) I am not confident I understand Con's rebuttal. In representation of 2 varieties of plastic bag, no specific faults can be ascribed, and the ones that do are at odds with Pro's contention of 5) and remain unresolved. More to the point the point, specific carrying capacity, Con mentioned that "the thin bag can be used, but it's not very strong". This violates Con's terms of carrying capacity. Pro made no arguments based on how much a paper or plastic bag can carry due to Con's terms.

3) Of course it does. (concession noted due to 1) ) . Con takes the best aspect of their product, and champions it as exclusive, when its clearly not the case. Without citation or evidence contrary, Pro is forced to demand that Con justify how 9 fold reduction in supplier space is 'not much'.

4) Pro cannot stress this enough: Post initial use, post initial use, post initial use. A recycled paper product has a finite life span. My current referenced articles have demonstrated that a post plastic vs a post paper recycle sacrifices durability. A post use/recycled paper bag WILL NOT have the same durability as a virgin paper bag vs a recycled plastic bag. Con does not mention the 'labor cost' of a plastic bag on conception, and wisely so. if the frailties of Con's product force workers to be exposed repeatedly to hazards as a defect of the products inferiority, I would neglect it as well. Again, the mentioned citations will satisfy this argument as fallacy: including human resources, a plastic bag takes less resources to produce.

5) There are no stand alone stats. Much of Con's premise relies upon user negligence rather than merits of the substance. When Con states they can never be recycled in 'the true sense', I would hope Con does some deep introspection on that matter. A grown, harvested, pulped, chopped, chemically dried and formed paper bag doesn't service 'nature' better than an collected from human waste infinitely reusable, infinitely malleable substance.

The core of rebuttals is easily surmised: On equal terms, wood can become broken. Plastic can't.


I must admit, that Pro debater has excellent presentation skills, sophisticated language and advanced skills to express his stands in a well-structured manner. Though I admire and respect his, I'd like to note, this doesn't necessarily mean his stand on the issue is correct. There aren't any studies necessary to answer the commonly obvious question - that plastic bags, unlike paper ones, greatly contribute to polluting waste, with impact on soil beneath, water through and air above the hordes of dumped plastic bag, and the production is also significantly 'dirtier' in terms of toxic fumes. The concept of single-use / disposal plastic bags and plastic wrapping in food industry is maybe cheap and convenient, but it breaches the basic fundamentals of environmental effort to maintain and preserve nature for healthy life - also for the future generations of people as well as plants and animals. In my opinion all the viable alternatives should be endorsed, supported and also made preferential. It may appear just a fashionable, hip gesture, but there's a lot of meaning behind it. There are cons of pros of paper bags use, however, I think they should be used wherever applicable (where paper bag can serve the same purpose as plastic bag, e.g. when purchasing clothes in a store). Substituting a plastic bag with a paper one is more rational choice as far as the consumption of wood for production of bags isn't more alarming (in regard to usage/replanting ratio) as the environmental impacts of plastic waste. The con presented a valid statement - plastic materials are more durable. And indeed, they are! They are lighter, relatively cheap and durable, but these qualities come with a price - it contributes to waste that can't be rationally processed without enviro impacts. That's why plastics should be used to make long-lasting materials, while disposable bags and wrappings should be made of more eco-friendly materials - e.g. paper, tin or aluminium, which can be well recycled. Luckily, most retailers do want to be more eco-friendly, because they know, they customers will appreciate, especially in the free western world. I understand it wouldn't be pleasant if the choice of non-plastic materials was enforced by the law as it would heavily inpact the economy, however, I am convinced the trends should be introduced and such choice should be supported by the government in consequent stages, starting from tax cuts, later subventions and just then, when solutions are viable and economy ready, substantial reduction of use of disposable plastic should be implemented.
Debate Round No. 3


I am sure we all can agree that there is no perfect world. Litter does happen, resources that -could- be recycled or disposed of in better fashion simply aren't. In appreciating those simple facts of life, why waste a larger portion of resources, including environmental ones, on a product that is demonstrably heavier, requires actively harvesting of forests, occupies more space, and does not have the durability of another product? The world is better served to ensure that the impact of a manufactured product is felt immediately, rather than a finger's crossed approach to a post consumptive application.

Plastic does not require a commensurate cost to generate, its raw materials come from a by product of a currently harvested resources that serves an green cause, that of course to supplement in the most dirty of fossil fuels. There is no collection of trees by diesel fume belching lumber jacking equipment, nor the subsequent deforestation. There is no mercurial drying of pulped agents. The source material for a plastic bag is literally generated without further effort from exploitation of a resource already being harvested. That is to say, there is no detriment to an ecosystem (papers' harvests' sole purpose is to destroy it) to make the product.

When the eco-conscious recycle their products, plastic retains its durability. A plastic bag from recycled materials is just as strong, and needs no further harvested materials to ensure its strength. Were only that other forms of bags so lucky in their recycling process. Even when not recycled, because of the primary quality of the plastic bag, it can be re purposed and reused around the house. I will be the first to admit, my plastic bags do not immediately find their way into the recycle bin. BUT! They do find residence under the sink, and get re purposed as cat-box liners, and waste paper bin liners. I know, this might sound silly, but entertain the notion that by re purposing the bag, my personal pocketbook is better for it, AND another product, and its associated commensurate costs are not expended.

The plastic bag has gotten a bad wrap (PUN!!!). The listed benefits in this debate should have demonstrated to reasonable people that the faults of plastic do not come from the plastic bag itself. In many cases, the benefit of plastic is duplicated over and over with each reuse and recycling, and touches upon other industries for that benefit. The economic, enviro-conscious, informed consumer should find the decision rather easy, based on the merits of this discussion, even with Con's astute assessments. A plastic bag is the superior choice for a consumer went present with the option of paper or plastic.

Thank you for a rousing debate, and I look forward to more in the future.


The argument that plastic bag doesn't drain resources that could be used to make fuel - that doesn't help anything. No trees have to be cut to make plastic bags, they're usually made from recycled paper or from waste material of quality wood processing.

My conclusion, however, is that neither of the products is a smart choice. The dispute between the two doesn't have a clear winner, though I believe that paper bag, wherever applicable, is the better of the choices. The concept for single use, disposal plastic bag is outrageous. Contributing to pollution with material that doesn't degrade for 1000 years just to carry a loaf of bread and whatnot is non-nonsensical. You appreciate the durability in a plastic bag. For small shops, where much durability isn't needed, recyclable paper bag can be used, but to be honest that's also a lazy approach. Is an easy, comfortable and careless use of disposable bags, along with its insignificant purchasing cost a good reason to pollute the lungs of sea creatures with plastic debris?

Paper waste does not pollute the ocean, although it may contain chemicals, absorbable into soil, which then doesn't make it an ideal alternative.

A strong fabric or composite bag will take long time to wear out, has strong handles and very decent weight capacity. It saves the environment, and has basically no disadvantages. For people that do not drive to store can use one of the alternatives, which are thin yet still durable and can be folded into a small pouch.

Yes, there's no such thing as ideal world. But we evolve. We have the option to make smart and more responsible choices, and it's up to us to exercise it - either within organised group, or us ourselves as human individuals.
Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by MadisonPotts 3 years ago
Clear agruement, but con has more information shown.
Posted by FaustianJustice 3 years ago
Wow, I totally should have reviewed the last few sentences of my argument. Sorry for making that totally mashed up.
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