Thursday, February 24, 2005

Paper or Plastic?

Paper Mill

Oil RefineryPosted by Hello

the top picture is of the port townsend paper mill, not far from where i live. it is a major employer here. it has a bit of a smell that drifts our way sometimes. i think that most of the "smoke" is steam. the raw material for the kraft paper it makes and turns into various packaging is sawdust. this mill also uses recycled paper as input. kraft paper is the brown stuff of grocery bags.

the bottom picture is of an oil refinery in california. we pump oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery where it is separated into various constituents: kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel, tar, ?. long string polymers are somehow taken out and processed into several sorts of plastic, including the nearly ubiquitous white plastic grocery bags.

the paper mill at its worst doesn't smell as bad as an oil refinery, nor does it release harmful vapors occasionally. ask the residents of richmond, ca about warnings and alerts for poison in the air. also, petroleum may be getting scarcer. you want that plastic bag or you want gas for your hummer? on the other hand, paper bags are made from trees and we are cutting them down faster than more can grow.

canvas shopping bags are made from cotton, the growing of which has its own problems of intense water use, pesticides, and defoliants. the agricultural drawbacks of cotton are, however, more easily amenable than the pollution of oil production or the deforestation for paper. i know that some cotton growers in central california have switched successfully from chemical defoliants to saltwater. apparently harvesting is easier if the plant has no leaves.

the proper answer to the question should be "no thanks. i have my own canvas bag."

No comments:

Post a Comment