MANILA, Philippines - Environmentalists have proposed that brown paper bags and newspapers are better alternatives to plastic bags when it comes to wrapping food, but the plastic industry maintains that such pose health hazards to consumers.
Crispian Lao, spokesperson for the plastic industry, claimed that brown bags and newspapers, which are commonly used to hold fried items such as fish and chips, contain chemicals that may contaminate food.
He added that health authorities in the Philippines and in other developed countries have not issued standards that would qualify recycled paper as a safe food wrap.
"We are raising this fact not to bring down paper, but to point out the unintended and costly consequences of the plastic ban which, in most instances, has denied the public a cheap food-grade wrapping material," Lao said in a statement.
"That is why you will notice that if you order french fries or pizza, the food itself is not in direct contact with the brown paper or carton packaging. In the case of pizza, wax paper holds the pizza underneath, but the top cover might still get in contact with the food unless, as some outlets do, a plastic item is provided to hold it up."
Lao made it clear, however, that not all paper products are unsafe. He said that white and "virgin" paper may be used to hold food items.
Lao made the statement following the ban on plastic bags in some areas in Metro Manila, causing plastic makers to be concerned about a possible dip in sales.
He stressed that plastic bags alone should not be blamed for floods in the country.
"Our irresponsible ways of disposing plastic and other waste is to blame, not plastic. We are the problem, we are also the solution," he said.
"Banning plastic misses the problem completely. It is an egregious mismatch between problem and solution."
Aside from being safe for food, plastic bags are "significantly cheaper" and "kinder to the environment," according to Lao.
Citing data from their industry, he said one gallon of clean water is needed to make one paper bag, which can also be used to create 116 plastic bags.
The spokesperson added that "paper manufacturing needs five times more energy than plastic, producing more greenhouse gases that worsen global warming."