Monday, January 30, 2012

Paper or Plastic?

I saved a paper bag today.  That is nothing unusual.  I save things all the time.  Especially things made of paper:  Card board boxes, big envelopes, small envelopes, peices of paper if they strike me at the time I might find some use for them in the future, and of course paper bags.  My radar is always out for paper bags.  They are rare and almost extinct I guess.  When I have the chance to save a good one, I jump on it.

While I folded that bag back into it's original state before it was used to hold my 24oz Papst and a bag of Chex mix, I thought about how great it was for me once again to be folding a paper bag.  Plastic bags give me no such pleasure.  Plastic bags are nothing but thin, wimpy wannabe paper bags. 

Given how thought filters thru the cobwebbed maze of my mind, I then wondered why is it we have become so enamored with plastic.  Plastic is everywhere now.  Or more accurately, organic polymers of high molecular mass form a high percentage of the physical and material things in our world.  When I was a teen, plastic had a bad rep.  Plastic used to mean fake when used in the Hippie lexicon back in the day-glo era.  When I was a kid, American toys were made of good US steel.  The cheap toys were made of plastic and came from Japan.

Now plastic rules the roost.  Plastic no longer carries with it the immediate brand of "cheap and wimpy".  Configured the right way, plastic can function cheaper, lighter, and be stronger than its equivalent metallic cousin.  Much of the new passenger plane from Boeing, the Dreamliner, is made of plastic, uh, er, carbon fiber.

Of course in order for us to accept plastic, a new more acceptable quiver of names had to be thought up. Polymers, polystyrene, polyurethane, silicone, acrylics, nylon - Hell, any word other than plastic.  The word "Composite" stands out as the best defense against the negative history of plastic.  It has nothing in it that would blatantly tie it to plastic.  The word, composite, promises strength through allegiances of more than one material.  It is a feel good word for a World apparently in need of one.

I had an argument once with a sales rep in the bike industry.  This was back in the 1990s.  Carbon Fiber was just beginning to make inroads in the bike world.  The sales rep was trying to sell me on the notion of carbon fiber handlebars.  In our discussion, I called them plastic bars.  Well, that was all it took for this guy to go off the deep end.  Briefly to condense his five minute rant -  No, his bars were not plastic, they were carbon fiber.  I replied that while the fabric that made up the form of the bars was indeed carbon fiber, the glue that held it all together was plastic.  And besides, it felt like plastic.  Should I now lick it to see if it tastes like plastic also?

Long story short, I brought in the man's bars and sold them in my bike shop.  I also put some on my  bike and my daughter's bike.  Every bar I sold or used failed.  And they failed dramatically.  I still remember that crash.  It would be 15 years before I would test pilot another set of carbon fiber bars.  And to be fair, the ones I am using now are the cat's meow.  Stronger, flexible and light.  Everything the guy back in the 1990s promised, but failed to deliver.  I am even considering putting my fat butt on a fancy dancy new high end carbon fiber mountain bike just to finally put to bed the lingering fear I have of plastic used in the wrong places.  The technology has been perfected and as long as the price is high enough, the product will deliver as promised.  But cheap plastic is still cheap plastic and will let you down.

So what does all this have to do with the paper bag I was folding and the image at the top?  Again I admit I let a post get a tad off the reservation, but I did have a reason to bash plastic.  It just feels unnatural.  Paper, even though probably as processed as plastic is, does not.  Paper reminds me of wood, which reminds me of trees, which reminds me that paper comes from a renewable resource and plastic is still for the most part a product of oil, which is not renewable - not yet anyway.

Forget renewable, let's consider recyclable.  Both are recyclable to varying degrees depending on what chemicals are used in the manufacture of the particular paper or plastic.  Both require large amounts of energy to make or recycle.  Both are dependent on a variety of ugly chemicals we don't want in our ground water.  So from a green point of view, neither one should be holding their heads up.  Yet without either, our world would fail to function at the pace it is functioning.  We have created these products and now are totally dependent on them to contain our food, contain our electronics, fly our planes.

So my choice of paper or plastic comes down to the image above.  Would the Unknown Comic be the man he became with a star on some Hollywood sidewalk had he come out on stage wearing a biodegradable plastic bag made from corn starch?  I don't think so.



Randal Graves said...

Plus, the good paper bags, unless you're hauling around rocks or axe blades, are sturdy enough to tote most anything, including a human head. Try being inconspicuous using a plastic bag for that.

okjimm said...

Ha! nice write ! I had forgotten about the 'Unknown Comic'... the Gong Show... whatta trip.

oh, but about the 24 oz Pabst.... I know you can buy better beer... just saying.

The Blog Fodder said...

Haven't seen a paper bag for years used to haul groceries. I agree with you about the real stuff. I like things made from wood.

PipeTobacco said...


Okjimm says...."I know you can buy better beer" ...

Than Pabst? To my manner of thinking, there is nothing wrong with Pabst at all. Each beer from a craft-microbrewery to Labatts Blue to Pabst Blue Ribbon, to Colt 45 Malt Liquor has its place in the greater scheme of beverages.

A delightful microbrew might be the perfect beverage for a fancier meal or even a fancy BBQ. Middle range beers fit a wide array of situations as well.

However, there are some foods where Pabst tastes better with than a craft-microbrew or "middle range" beer like Labatts Blue. For example, if i were to eat a take out burger from a Family Style Resturant (think Elias Brothers), a Pabst would be the best flavor choice IMO.

Even the "lowly" Colt 45 Malt Liquor has its own right spot. For example if you are in a hurry to feel pleasantly hopped up, the rather p*ss-water flavor encourages you to consume the 40 ouncer quickly and facilitates that goal.

So, for my manner of thinking, there is no such thing as a "bad" beer.... just a beer that may not be the best choice for a given circumstance.


Demeur said...

Funny you mentioned this. Our little berg here north of Seattle just put a ban on plastic bags. I like paper except when carrying frozen stuff or drippy meat from the grocers. Oh and forget those reusable tote bags. They are so cheap they fall apart after a couple of uses and they too are made of plastic.

Nan said...

The supermarkets in this area seem to use paper bags more often than plastic, but given the importance of the pulp and paper industry to the economy of upper Michigan that's not surprising.

I use reusable tote bags and they seem to be holding up pretty well. I've had a Publix bag for over a year and it's not showing any signs of wear. Not sure what it's made from, but it's not plastic. A couple of the local supermarkets are pushing bags with their names on them, but I've never seen anyone using one -- think the reusable tote bag idea hasn't caught on here yet.

BBC said...

Plastic and paper also uses a lot of water while making products. You can get paper bags here if you ask for them, otherwise you'll get plastic.

They're starting to use a lot of recycled plastics in upholstery materials, like the mat that goes under the carpet in cars, and even the carpet.

Kulkuri said...

I've heard the main reason stores went to plastic bags was they take less space to store. You can put several times as many plastic bags vs paper.

I like paper bags because they stand up. Plastic bags collapse when you put them in the car and sometimes the stuff in them roll around all over the car.

I used to drink Pabst back in the day, even converted a few people, but now that I imbibe less, I try other beers.

Mr. Charleston said...

Carbon fiber has come a very long way since the 90's. However, it is still prone to catastrophic failure in a crash... check out nearly every race car crash except NASCAR... they disintegrate on impact. Of course, going 200 mph might have something to do with it. Just sayin'

BBC said...

If I drink Pabst for an evening the next morning it tastes like frogs shit in my mouth.

Helen likes a clean garbage can so we bag everything in plastic bags that we put in it.

In a few thousand/million years they'll be converted back to oil? Maybe, but not sure we'll be here to use that oil.

If we are, we will.

MRMacrum said...

Randal - I always found a good waxed card board box the best container for a head. A fresh one anyway.

okjimm - I suppose you are going to tell me Bud or maybe even Coors is better. Well, those two are what Papst becomes when I'm done drinking it.

Yeah, the Gong Show. There was indeed outrageous TV back in the day.

Blog Fodder - From the responses here, it seems that paper is making a comeback. Not here in Maine yet.

Pipe Tobacco - I never considered the situational aspect of one beer being better suited than another. Now that I think about it, I would say yeah, you are right on target.

But I draw the line that there is "no bad Beer". If that were true, Bud, Coors, and any beer with the word "light" in its name would be against the law.

Demeur - Banned plastic? Far out.

Nan - It would seem odd then that Maine is so plastic bound then. A sizable portion of our state income is derived from paper pulp also.

BBC - Like I said, the recycling does happen, but it depends on the class of plastic or paper. Polar Fleece was originally made from recycled milk bottles. I don't know if it still is or not.

I'm guessing then that if you drink Bud or Coors, the next day it must taste like an elephant shit on your head.

Kulkiri - take up less space? That is for sure. I have a box of 1000 bags my wife bought the bik shop just before I opened this one 13 years ago. Ther eare still at least 800 bags in the box and it is about 4x8x10 inches big.

Mr Charleston - I can testify to the catastrophic falure of Carbon Fiber. It happened to me and more than a few cycling cutomers of mine back in the 1990s. But so far, the newer renditions have been holding up decently. The biggest issue in bicycle parts that consist of CF is to pay very close attention to the torque values when tightening any bolts on the stuff. Pinch too hard and compromise that first layer of CF and it means assured failure sooner than later.

Kulkuri said...

No bad beers?? Obviously never had Narragansett or Black Label. When I was stationed at Dow Airplane Patch 45yrs ago, those two beers were not drinkable unless already inebriated.

I worked on a plastic airplane, the Lear Fan. Bill Lear's last plane. It never made it into production, had trouble getting certified. Not sure if the graphite inproved since then or what. It was put together like a model airplane. They built the sides, bottom and top of the fuselage and then glued the pieces together to make the body.


you are missing the point of paper bags..cats love to play with them...