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Life Cycle Analysis of Paper and Plastic Bags


Michigan Environmental Education Curriculum
Life Cycle Analysis of Paper and Plastic Bags

When you go to the grocery store to buy the things you need, as soon as you approach the cashier you hear a voice asking you: "Paper or plastic?". It is a simple question, but your answer has environmental impacts that you may not have considered.



Preparation note: To complete one of the activities in this module you will need a stack of paper bags, a stack of plastic bags and a ruler.


Plastic bags were first introduced in 1977 and now account for four out of every five bags handed out at grocery stores.

What is a Life Cycle Analysis

A Life cycle analysis involves making detailed measurements during the manufacturing of the product, from the mining of the raw materials used in its production and distribution, its use, possible re-use or recycling, and its eventual disposal.


Paper bags are made from trees, which are a renewable resource. Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource.

Life cycle analysis enables a manufacturer to quantify how much energy and raw materials are used, and how much solid waste, liquid waste and gaseous waste is generated at each stage of the product's life.

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