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Banning paper bags would help the planet, but more than half of Americans are against it

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With climate change presenting an ever-increasing threat to the planet, individuals and communities are searching for ways to limit the carbon emissions contributing to global warming.

In the U.S., one solution has been to limit the use of single-use shopping bags, either through surcharges or outright bans. While most of the bans have applied to single-use plastic bags, in May 2022, New Jersey became the first state to also ban single-use paper bags in grocery stores.

Whether or not bans or surcharges for single-use paper bags become a broader trend depends on many factors, including public opinion. According to a new survey by, Americans are divided in their support for banning single-use paper bags. The survey also revealed that this may be due, at least in part, to misconceptions about how eco-friendly paper bags are.

Key Findings

  • 54% of Americans don’t want single-use paper bags banned
  • The top reason why Americans oppose single-use paper bag bans is that not everyone can afford reusable bags. Ban supporters say paper bags should be outlawed to reduce deforestation
  • 68% of Americans believe that single-use paper bags are more eco-friendly than single-use plastic bags
  • Nearly 9 in 10 Americans are willing to make changes to reduce the number of paper products they use

54% of Americans don’t want single-use paper bags banned

For a slight majority of Americans, being able to use single-use paper bags in grocery stores and other shops is still a priority. Forty percent of survey respondents ‘disagree’ with a ban on single-use paper bags, and 14% ‘strongly disagree.’

Meanwhile, 19% of Americans ‘strongly agree’ that single-use paper bags should be banned, while 28% ‘agree.’ (Numbers don’t add up to 100% due to rounding.)

An alternative solution that has more support is allowing customers to continue using paper bags, but charging them for the privilege. Fifty-two percent of respondents ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with levying a surcharge on paper bags to minimize use, while 48% ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with this practice.

Opponents to bag bans point to cost, inconvenience as reasons for resistance

Among Americans who oppose a ban on single-use paper bags, 36% say it’s because not everyone can afford reusable bags. Thirty-five percent oppose bans because they like having options for which type of bag they use, 28% don’t want laws dictating what kind of bags they use, and 27% say it’s too inconvenient to always bring reusable bags to the store.

Meanwhile, for those who want single-use paper bags banned, the number reason is to reduce the number of trees that need to be cut down, with 60% of respondents selecting this answer.

Forty-eight percent of ban supporters also say it will encourage people to switch to reusable bags.

7 in 10 Americans believe paper bags are more eco-friendly than plastic

Opposition to bans on single-use paper bags can also be traced back to the belief that paper bags are more eco-friendly than plastic bags.

When asked whether the statement “Paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags” is true or false, 68% of respondents said ‘true.’ Fourteen percent of respondents indicated the statement is false, and 18% aren’t sure.

The majority of survey respondents, 62%, also say they ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with a ban on single-use plastic bags.

Indeed, most of the focus has been on banning single-use plastic bags for a number of reasons, including their lack of biodegradability, the threat they pose to wildlife, and the fact that they are produced from fossil fuels.

However, manufacturing and shipping paper bags also have their own environmental costs, as studies have shown.

Approximately 14 million trees are cut down every year for paper bag production alone. It takes four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to make a plastic bag, and thousands of gallons of water to turn wood pulp into finished paper. Overall, paper bag production generates much more air and water pollutants than plastic bag production.

Because paper bags are heavier than plastic bags, they require more fuel to ship, which translates into higher carbon emissions. Although consumers are more likely to recycle paper bags (as 31% of respondents who use paper bags do), this is a resource-intensive process as well.

Some respondents who favor a ban on single-use paper bags are aware of these issues. Forty-three percent of ban supporters say it’s because making paper bags uses more energy and resources than making plastic bags, while 41% acknowledge that manufacturing paper bags creates waste and pollution.

87% of Americans willing to change habits to reduce paper use

Regardless of where Americans stand on banning paper bags, the majority have made, or are willing to make, changes to reduce the amount of paper products they use in their homes.

More than three-fourths of Americans who currently use single-use paper bags for grocery shopping either recycle their paper bags (31%) or save them to reuse for other purposes (47%).

Forty-nine percent of Americans avoid using other single-use paper products, like plates and cups, at home. Forty percent have switched to products made out of paper alternatives, like bamboo, cork, cotton or hemp). Thirty-five percent reuse paper for notes, and 33% use a reusable coffee filter instead of paper coffee filters.

This willingness to change habits isn’t surprising, considering 87% of Americans are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about climate change and the effect that waste has on the environment.


All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 American adults ages 18 and older were surveyed. This survey was conducted on June 10, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For more information, please email Content Marketing Manager Kristen Scatton at [email protected].