Life Cycle of a Paper Bag

Annabelle Kim, 5th period AP Environmental Science

How is it made?

A paper bag is created from either logs or recycled material. If created from logs, the logs are set to dry for three years and then soaked in chemicals, pressurized, and heated. This material is a pulp. If created by recycled material, then the material is directly transformed into a pulp. The pulp is then created into a paper bag in a mill.

The raw materials needed are debarked logs, recycled material, and chemicals such as sulfur. The most common types of trees used for the creation of paper consists of aspen, eucalyptus, birch, pine, and spruce. Much of the trees cut down are cut down illegally in areas such as Russia, the Baltic States, and Indonesia.

Why is it made?

A paper bag is used for about 24 hours. It is used to hold food or other objects for easier carriage.

What happens after it is used?

After a paper bag is used, it can either me thrown away or recycled. If it is thrown away, the paper bag, which is most likely biodegradable, will end up in a land fill and are then broken down by bacteria and other living organisms. If it is recycled, the paper bag will end up at a mill where the paper bag is soaked in chemicals, pressurized, and heated in order to transform it into a pulp like substance that is then made into a different material.

Generally, paper bags are not harmful to the environment because many of them, particularly lunch bags, are biodegradable. A biodegradable bag takes about one month to degrade. However, there are different kinds of paper bags such as those used in grocery stores that are created through a process called Kraft pulping which results in only 50% of the tree used. The remainder of the tree material is then created into sludge, burned, and spread on land or land fills, a harmful action.

What about another usage?

A paper bag can be repurposed in a variety of ways. First, a paper bag can be recycled where it is then turned back into pulp to create everyday objects or even more paper bags. A paper bag can be created into a hand puppet for children to decorate and use for fun. A paper bag can also be used to ripen fruits or to drain fried foods. A paper bag can even be used to keep the steering wheel of a car cool by cutting a 10-inch strip along the seam on the back and slipping it over the wheel.

How are the three R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) impacting Earth?

The first 'R' of this acronym refers to reducing the amount of raw materials that we extract from this Earth. Reducing the amount of raw materials we use saves animals habitats and preserves the natural balance of Earth. Animals are able to flourish under the conditions they have adapted to and result in less competition for feeding grounds and shelter.

The second 'R' of this acronym refers to reusing the materials we have created from these raw materials. Reusing the materials we have already created allows us to not buy new materials and add to an increase in the amount of raw materials extracted from Earth. Reusing materials allows for land fills to fill up less quickly as well as preserve raw materials. Less land fill allows for more space for biodiversity to thrive in as well as protect organisms in the ecosystem from any harmful chemicals that could leak from these land fills.

The third 'R' of this acronym refers to recycling our materials in order to create new usable materials for our everyday use. This results in no addition to land fills as well as no extraction of raw materials from the earth. Reduction of land fills as well as preservation of raw materials allows for the greatest amount of protection of organism habitat, reduction of potentially harmful chemicals, and less area for usage as land fills. These protect the biodiversity of animals by reducing any potential harmful poisons as well as keep the balance of nature.