People are becoming increasingly aware of plastic pollution but too often they think paper is the solution. It isn’t. Not if it means clearcutting and destroying our precious few remaining natural habitats. Kilo for kilo paper could be doing more harm than plastic. (To be clear, the solution is not even a material. It is a fundamental design principle: circularity. Click here to read more!)

Building on this comparison, paper production requires much more energy than that for plastic.

Paper is also heavier so transporting it requires more energy. And it is not nearly as durable as plastic which means paper packaging or bags can only be reused a very limited number of times. Just because it is a renewable material does not necessarily mean that it is better.

To be clear, paper bags need only to be reused a small number of times to be considered more “environmentally friendly” than single-use plastic bags. Compare that to cotton which has to be used well over one hundred times. 


Most people assume that the humble paper cup should be simple enough to recycle. Not so. Unfortunately, disposable cups for tea, coffee or some takeaway meals have a wax or plastic lining. Have you ever noticed small milk type bits floating on top of your fresh coffee? Chances are, that's the plastic lining! This lining makes it too difficult for a regular recycling plant to handle. The wax or plastic needs to be removed and this requires time and money. 

Adding insult to injury, research is now showing how takeaway cups can be harmful to human health. The issue here has to do with swallowing microplastics. Cups with plastic (as opposed to wax) can release tin bits of plastic into your hot beverage and thus into your body when consumed. Some plastics are known to be toxic (read our article on plastic to learn more). Ingesting microplastics can negatively impact the reproductive health of women, the development of babies and children and can cause many other health issues. 


Green Salon Collective has compiled a number of solutions to help your salon minimise its paper waste and we also offer some services to help you with responsible disposal. Read our articles:

  • How to become a tree hugging salon
  • Paper waste: Responsible disposal solutions

This article was written for Green Salon Collective by MeetthefiveRs

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References and further reading

MeetthefiveRs’ article, Plastic is not the enemy and paper is not necessarily the solution

The BBC article, Plastic or paper: Which bag is greener?

The Guardian article, War on plastic waste faces setback as cost of recycled material soars

Metro News’ article, Drinking coffee from disposable cups could be ‘seriously’ bad for you as you swallow microplastics

The Blueprint’s article, How Your Small Business Can Go Paperless

Northern Ireland Assembly’s briefing note, Comparison of environmental impact of plastic, paper and cloth bags

National Geographic’s article, You eat thousands of bits of plastic every year

Valpak’s Paper cup recycling scheme

Forbes’ article, Going paperless: A journey worth taking

Pratima Bajpai’s book, Recycling and Deinking of Recovered Paper

Happy DIY Home’s article, DIY compost bin ideas: How to make compost at home

Stephanie Hodgson

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