Things aren't static. First, growing pulp lumber has gotten far more efficient. Drive through South Georgia, and you'll see pines treated like any other crop -- this year's trees are harvested and replanted, and the same for other trees on other lots next year.
A bigger change is that paper recycling has become far more efficient and more commonplace. Cheap paper like newsprint is almost all recycled fiber these days. Brown paper bags and brown boxes do away with bleaching and are more environmentally friendly.
Paper recycling comes in two forms -- first, cutting scraps are gathered and fed back into the pulper instead of swept up and thrown out -- second, more and more shipping boxes, paper bags and so on are collected for recycling. Look at the bottom of a recycled paper bag -- you'll usually see a % of recycled content and a separate % of post-consumer waste.
Plastic bags take more energy and water to manufacture, not to mention diverting petroleum from the fuel stream when it's not exactly available in surplus. recycling them is less efficient. And when they do get to the landfill, they don't degrade.
In short, the issue isn't that environmentalists changed their position on a whim -- the parameters have changed. The same way there's now a rift among environmentalists between the folks who still believe that nuclear waste is still the more dire threat, and those who now support nuclear power in the belief that gas emissions are the greater threat.
I believe that conservation is a conservative value -- waste is waste, whether it's taxpayer funds or scarce natural resources. I do not support hysterical, draconian measures with little real scientific basis, but if it costs a few pennies more, takes a few minutes more, to live in a way that is more sustainable in the long term, it's worth doing. While government mandates are clearly overreaching, it's something we ought to be trying.
I well remember the “Switch to Plastic Bags” wars of the 70’s where is was very un-PC to support paper bags. Landfill problems, water pollution and general efficiency were the buzz words from 30 years ago.
Now the worm turns on plastic bags.
I suspected that the oil lobby funded the enviro-wackos to oppose paper bags.
Would not be surprised if the paper lobby was funding this current waste of newspaper.
Wood must be brought out from the forest to the pulp mill, taking fossil fuels in the chain saws, logging machinery, logging trucks, and the machinery to turn the logs into pulp. It takes lots of energy to turn the pulp into paper. Even the transport of the huge paper rolls to the bag making plants takes fossil fuels. Once the paper is make into bags (more energy to run the machinery), they are loaded on trucks for distribution. Because paper weighs more that plastic, distribution costs are higher.
Finally,has anyone considered the amount of plastic that is used in common packaging? Plastic is used to envelop every refrigerator manufactured. Plastic surrounds every TV big or small. That IPod came in a plastic bag. People have to buy special sissors to cut everything from batteries to diapers out of plastic. There is miles and miles and tons and tons of plastic shrink wrap used to bundle up the billions of pallets of material being shipped around the world and cross country. That wide screen TV you bought last Christmas came in a box that had styrofoam packing in a box that was banded with plastic straps. There is enough plastic straps being used for palleting cartons to go around earth several times over. The amount of plastic for such packaging would dwarf the tiny amount of plastic bags people use to carry the little food they can afford home from market. And this type of packaging does go into the land fill. At least the little piggy socialist subjects could throw a few more of those plastic grocery bags in the recycling barrel on their way in to buy their organic pleasures.