Plastic vs paper bags.

September 8, 2019 | People at Mirus Australia

The new battleground is now with straws 

Trees. Paper bags were discontinued because of trees.

Environmentalists were concerned that we were cutting down too many trees to make paper based products. So we stopped. Plastic replacing paper. Now we have plastic bags forever. Literally. They’ll never disappear. They won’t go away, not for like thousands of years! 

Every problem has a solution. Replacing paper bags with plastic ones wasn’t it. If every problem has a solution, then every solution has it’s own problems.

We solved the cutting down of trees issue but it wasn’t by using plastic bags. It was planting more trees.   

To be more specific, we grew large tree plantations to first replenish what we had cut down. Then, as more and more plantations matured, we just used these instead of existing forests. Revolutionary!  

Plastic sucks 

Except now we are stuck with plastic bags for the next thousand years or more. That really sucks. But it’s not just plastic bags. It’s straws and coffee cups and everything else that screams single use only.  

The environmentalists weren’t wrong. They just didn’t have the right solution in place before they got the world to stop using paper bags. (Side note: paper bags are back. Why? Because we can. Oh and we solved the deforesting issue).  

Now we need the world to stop using ‘single use’ products like cups, cutlery and straws. So the new battle ground is with plastic straws. But are paper straws better?  

Want paper straws with that?  

Last year, McDonald’s made headlines after it announced that it would be pulling plastic straws from all of its UK locations and replacing them with paper straws. Woohoo!  

The decision was praised by politicians and environmentalists as a step to helping the environment. McDonald’s, who is often used as the poster child or example of corporate greed seemed to be setting a great example to other large businesses in the step towards getting rid of single use straws. 

But it turns out these straws are not as eco-friendly as initially thought. Prior to the new paper straws, McDonald’s used 1.8 million plastic straws in its UK restaurants every day. Thankfully those straws were 100% recyclable. But McDonald’s new paper straws are non-recyclable. Well, kind of. 

When we look beyond the headlines, it turns out that McDonalds new paper straw materials are recyclable. However, their thickness makes it difficult to be processed by their waste solution providers.  

But this is actually a wider industry issue. The infrastructure needed to recycle has not kept pace with the emergence of paper straws. So for now, McDonalds are advising their UK staff to dispose of the paper straws in the general waste until further notice. Yikes! 

It seems humans are simply destined to make the same mistakes over and over again. Did we learn nothing from the rush, and subsequent catastrophe to ban paper bags? We forgot to get the recycling industry up to speed first.  

Think with the end in mind 

Change doesn’t have to suck (pun intended). But before embarking on a solution you first need to know what problems or challenges it will bring. And put in counter measures to combat them.  

I still think having 100% recyclable paper straws in the general waste is thousand years times better than having totally non-recyclable plastic bags side-by-side. 

What do you think?

About the author  

Anthony Carroll,  Senior Marketing and Innovation Manager, Mirus Australia is an expert in human-centred design.  Anthony regularly teaches at the University of Sydney, Centre of Continuing Education on this very subject and is an  Expert-in-Residence for Mirus Australia Gold Partner  innovAGEING. 

This post is part of the  ‘Change doesn’t have to suck’  series which highlights the positive attributes change can bring to our lives, in the communities we live and work in and the world! 

We will be discussing change at Aged Care industry events.  See where we are speaking or visiting next by visiting our Events  page 

See you there!  #CDHTS #makingagedcarebetter