Saturday, April 5, 2008

Whole Foods paper bag: 100% recycled and recyclable

I usually use reusable bag for grocery shopping, but I had to get this one.

Whole Foods' paper bag. It says: "This bag is made of 100% recycled paper (40% post-consumer recycled fiber and the remainder is post-industrial recycled fiber, excluding handles).

Sounds cool.

But this brought me back to my lingering question: "is recycling that environmentally beneficial?"

I wrote about Japanese recycled paper scandal the other day. What happened is that Japanese major paper companies lied about mixture ratio of recycled material and virgin material.

If what Nippon Paper Group argues is true, using recycled material (contaminated) requires more energy compared to using virgin material which leads to higher cost (and more additives or chemical input?). Plus, paper can be recycled max 4-5 times. The more time the material is recycled, the less yield the secondary product will achieve.

Whole Foods paper bag is made of 100% recycled paper. Obviously, it's not bleached. It touches pretty rough....not smooth. Yes it feels like "recycled" paper. Interestingly, the handle is not made of recycled materials. I assume that it's because recycled materials can not achieve the strength that is required for a handle.

Going back to Japan's recycled paper scandal, I think what Japanese companies were lying about was paper product such as copy paper. It will require more quality compared to a grocery bag.

Here is my question: shouldn't recycled paper focus on certain products that would require less quality?

Recycling is not alchemy. You cannot make super-quality product from bad quality material unless you use more input during the process. If that's the case, instead of trying to make everything from recycled paper, isn't it better to decide what to make from virgin materials and what from recycled materials?

I find LCA for recycled paper....recycled vs incinerated vs landfill.

I want see the environmental impact of the paper made of virgin material vs different mixture ratio of virgin and recycled, and vs 100% recycled. More preferable, different recycled materials scenario: homogeneous, heterogeneous, contamination level.....

Otherwise I can't decide which solution is most environmentally beneficial.


Justin said...

There is no question that the best option for shopping vessels are reusable textile bags. Those netting bags work well and hold 40 lbs. I had load of stuff in mine today including two bottles of wine. I haven't done the research but I would guess that your points are spot on a bout the energy in/out of recycled paper for bags.

eco-samurai said...

I totally agree! I usually use reusable bag too. Reduce and reuse is straightforward, they have environmental benefit. But I sometimes feel like recycling might be overrated and it has a lot to do with the fact that we don't really know about the input/output to the recycling process. Actually, we often don't know where our "recycled" material end up. I want to know more about it.

Anonymous said...

al i suggest if you all doubt which one is beter option try and visit the factory who makes it and see it for your self how and what the materials they are using then you will get an idea.

eco-samurai said...

That will be great if I could do that; the issue is that it's difficult to track the production process (e.g. a seller of a product does not know where the paper comes from). I can keep trying though. Thank you for suggestion.