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Paper, plastic or tote: Doing the math on the environmental impacts of shopping bags

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As plastic bags congest the Earth, many people reach for paper or reusable cloth bags. However, the consequences of those can be worse than single-use plastic bags.

Despite common belief, the manufacturing of paper bags and totes produce more carbon emissions than the making of single-use plastic bags, according to a 2018 study by the Ministry of Denmark. On the other hand, plastic bags, as National Geographic stated, litter habitats and do not biodegrade.

Two experts examine the nuanced ecological impacts of shopping bags and how people can minimize their environmental damage.

  • Matt Riggs, outreach coordinator for MARC Solid Waste Management District and Recycle Spot
  • Shelie Miller, professor of sustainable systems at the University of Michigan
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