paper or plastic?

Eric Gerber

Funny You Should Ask: Paper or Plastic?

Funny You Should Ask

Prepare yourself for another edition of “Funny You Should Ask,” the feature that encourages UH researchers and scholars to put scientific method on hold and amuse themselves with a more light-hearted approach to inquiry. Previously, we’ve challenged our participants to ponder such puzzlers as whether breakfast is the most important meal of the day or whether it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. This time, they’re weighing in on another of modern society’s most bewildering issues …
Paper or plastic?

Here are their responses – material evidence, you might say.
— Eric Gerber

Cash or Credit?

by Stuart Long

So: kill a tree or clog a landfill? Perhaps the more basic question is … bags or sacks?

When I first moved to Boston from West Texas and asked a store clerk to put my purchase in a “sack,” he was mystified. Finally, he put it in a “bag.” What distinguishes one from the other? Handles? Size? Do sacks fit in a bag? Bags in a sack?

Personally, I usually go with plastic. Handles make it easier to carry five or six and still unlock your front door. Or I can smuggle them to my appreciative daughter in Austin, where they are banned. Maybe there’s even a black market in our fair capital? Most important for me, however, is that I’m a longtime owner and neighborhood walker of a Great Dane. The typical doggie litter bags just don’t work well for his … greatness.

One nice thing about paper: you can stuff newspapers in them and feel no guilt about dumping it all into the recycle bin. But I have to admit it’s hard to let go of those artisanal paper sacks from Whole Foods or Trader Joes. Meanwhile, the plastic ones accumulate into other plastic ones and often annex an entire cabinet in the pantry. As a dedicated scientist, I experimented and discovered you can fit 47 wadded up plastic bags into one of a similar size.

I’ve heard that those new to our country who are still developing their English skills are often completely baffled by “paper or plastic?” Some even think the clerk is asking if they want to use cash or a credit card. Makes sense. Our language can be funny that way. As George Carlin used to ask – why do we park on a “driveway” and drive on a “parkway”? Paper or plastic? Yes, please.

Long, whose research interests include dielectric resonator antennas and why “flammable” and “inflammable” mean the same thing, is the associate dean of undergraduate research and the Honors College.