Paper bag sales on the rise as plastic bans go into effect
The classic question — paper or plastic? — could soon be phased out as bans on single-use plastic bags sweep the nation, causing paper companies and manufacturers to see a surge in sales.
Companies across Pennsylvania are seeing higher sales for paper bags and boxes, but the growth is driving up costs for businesses and giving customers longer wait times, said Jeff Holmes, founder of Pittsburgh’s Mr. Take Out Bags.
“In my opinion, the biggest thing about the plastic bag bans that have come up has not been that it’s reduced plastic use as much as you might think, but what it has done is it’s changed public perception that plastic bags are bad,” Holmes said. “So it’d be like you’re banning diesel cars. If they’re doing that here and there and somewhere else, people would be like, ‘Oh, there must be something wrong with diesel cars because they’re banning them.’ ”
Bans in communities across the nation — including Washington, South Carolina, Texas, Rhode Island, New York, California and Oregon — have changed that perception, according to Holmes. He said that is the driving factor for the uptick in sales in the paper market, which is slated to grow between 2019 and 2028, according to Market Watch, which provides stock market news.
“Plastic bags have been less and less in demand, and more customers have moved to paper,” Holmes said. “So that’s changed the paper market, and it’s due to the public perception of all these stories and pictures of bags floating around in the ocean.”
According to a 2011 study done by Northern Ireland Assembly, it takes more than four times as much energy to produce a paper bag than it does a plastic bag. But according the Market Watch, paper bags are better alternatives to plastic bags that cannot be disposed because of environmental concerns associated with the product.
And while it takes less energy to recycle plastic, the Northern Ireland Assembly said, only about 5% of plastics are recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Across the market, product that typically takes four to six weeks to get to customers is now taking 13 to 14 weeks, Holmes said. On top of that, what once cost 50 cents per bag has increased to 60 cents for certain products.
“(Companies) don’t know how to recoup that other than it comes off the bottom line,” Holmes said, adding that customers will eventually see the impact of those higher prices.
“It’s created a more challenging environment in our world,” he said. “My opinion is I’m neutral to which is right, but I’ve seen a big movement toward paper — and we like paper — but it costs more money and the people that buy it from us don’t always want to spend additional money to buy the paper.”
At Mr. Take Out Bags, a typical kraft paper takeout bag can cost between 22 cents and 65 cents, depending on size. A plastic t-shirt takeout bag at the company costs between 3 cents and 26 cents depending on size and color. Holmes also sells biodegradable plastic bags, recyclable plastic bags and recycled paper bags.
At American Paper Bag in Sugar Notch, near Wilkes Barre, head of manufacturing Ian Robson is hopeful for potential plastic bans, as a business owner and an environmentalist.
“I do see Pennsylvania lagging behind many other states in its environmental side, and just the litter on the side of the road,” Robson said. “It is quite bad where we are compared to other states.”
The company touts “revolutionary paper shopping bags and mailers” that are customizable and have handles, unlike other companies’ products, Robson said. American Paper Bag also says they have fast production rates, use less paper and take up less space.
Pennsylvania lawmakers, along with regional grocery chains Shop ’n Save and Giant Eagle are contemplating bans, with a set of bills proposed in the Pennsylvania House known as Zero Waste PA.
Some bans across the country include Styrofoam, which Holmes said is the worst plastic for the environment. Mr. Take Out Bags sells paper takeout boxes, which have also seen a surge in sales, he said.
“We’re selling a lot more paper products, a lot more paper boxes,” Holmes said. “Takeout boxes are one of our hottest products, and paper shopping bags — everybody wants them, and we’re just trying to meet everybody’s demand.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .