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Megan: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet. And break them down into small questions with unexpected answers.

I’m Megan Hall.

Megan Hall : This Spring, the Providence city council passed a ban on plastic bags. Soon, you’ll only find paper and reusable bags at stores in Rhode Island’s capital city. But are paper bags the ideal alternative to plastic? We had Alina Kulman and Molly Magid from our Possibly team look into this question. Welcome Alina and Molly!

Alina Kulman: Hi!

Molly Magid: Hello!

Alina Kulman: We talked to Dave McLaughlin, the executive director of Clean Ocean Access. He told us plastic bags often end up in our waterways.

Dave McLaughlin: It’s a really big problem it breaks down into little pieces of plastic that somehow find its way back into the ecosystem or into our bodies

Molly Magid: Dave’s right – plastic bags in the ocean can kill marine life. Which is a problem, because Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year. That’s a lot of plastic in our water!

Megan Hall: So are paper bags are better?

Alina Kulman: Not quite. Plastic bags cause a lot of harm to the ocean…

Molly Magid: But, in terms of emissions, they’re better than other options. Scientists at the British Environment Agency found that it doesn’t take a lot of energy to make or transport plastic bags.

Alina Kulman: In fact, you’d have to reuse a paper bag three times to equal the greenhouse gas emissions used to make and deliver one plastic bag.

Molly Magid: And that’s that’s not easy to do- paper bags often rip and get soggy. 

Megan Hall: So, are reusable bags the answer?

Alina Kulman: Yes and no. The same study found that manufacturing cotton bags is so resource intensive that a cloth bag needs to be reused 131 times to equal the emissions of a plastic bag.

Megan Hall: Wow 131 times! So how should people be bagging their groceries? 

Molly Magid: Well, consider buying a reusable plastic bag instead, or buy bags from a second hand store.

Megan Hall: What if you have to choose between paper or plastic?

Alina Kulman: The truth is, whatever bag you choose, it’s going to have a small impact on your carbon footprint. But plastic bags do have a severe effect on our waterways.

Molly Magid: So we recommend using a paper bag if you don’t have a reusable one.

Megan Hall: Got it. Thanks for looking into this, Molly and Alina!

Megan Hall: That’s it for today. To ask a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, let us know on our question page.

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