Why is this such a difficult question? There we are, just finishing up the weekly grocery battle (the crowded aisles! the cart with the wonky wheel! the kids whining please please please for the sugary cereal!). We’re almost done. The checkout clerk revs up the belt, and then the dreaded question: paper or plastic? Hmmm, wait, I know this one. Plastic is better because it saves trees! No, wait. Paper is better because plastic is made from petroleum and plastic doesn’t biodegrade! Plastic… we can recycle! Paper…it still makes great book covers! What to do?

Important Note: this question is assuming, of course, that this is one of the RARE times that you forgot to bring your own reusable grocery bags… which is the BEST option, hands down. But on those occasions when we forget our own bags, we need to answer the dreaded question.

So which is best?

The scientific studies don’t agree on a winner. Both types require large amounts of natural resources to produce — and the majority of both eventually end up in landfills. Paper seems to come out a little bit on top, due to the fact that it can be composted. But unless you’re vigilant about composting, we’re not sure how practical that is.

Reusable is best!

Get some good reusable bags, such as popular Chicos bags or simple cotton string bags, make sure you have a couple in every car in your household, and then… USE THEM! They’ll last for years. (And as a footnote: on those occasions when you must take paper or plastic from the store, try to find a good use for them after you get home, so they’ll stay out of the landfills for a little longer.)