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What is brown vs white paper bags?

Brown paper bags and white paper bags are two common types of paper bags used for packaging, shipping, and carrying items. While they may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences between brown and white paper bags in terms of their material, durability, environmental impact, uses, and more.

What is Brown Paper Made Of?

Brown paper, often referred to as kraft paper, is made from wood pulp that has not gone through the full bleaching process. The wood pulp maintains more of its natural brown color, resulting in the familiar brownish hue of kraft paper. The pulp used to make kraft paper is created through either a chemical or mechanical pulping process:

  • Chemical pulping uses a chemical solution to break down lignin that binds the wood fibers together. This produces higher quality pulp.
  • Mechanical pulping uses physical methods like grinding to separate the wood fibers, resulting in shorter fibers.

Most modern kraft paper is made using a mix of chemical and mechanical pulping. The unbleached characteristic of the pulp is what gives kraft paper its distinctive brown coloration. It also results in a paper with high strength and durability due to the longer fibers maintained through chemical pulping.

What is White Paper Bags Made Of?

White paper bags are typically made from bleached wood pulp. During the bleaching process, browning agents like lignin are removed from the wood pulp, resulting in a bright white paper material. There are a few common bleaching processes used:

  • Chlorine bleaching uses chlorine gas to bleach the pulp.
  • Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching substitutes chlorine dioxide for chlorine gas.
  • Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) bleaching uses oxygen, hydrogen peroxide, or ozone instead of chlorine compounds.

The removal of lignin and other color-causing compounds makes the finished paper lighter in color. However, it also shortens the fibers which can reduce strength. Additional chemical processing is often required to increase the strength of fully bleached white paper.

Durability Differences

Brown kraft paper is generally much stronger and more durable than white paper made from bleached wood pulp. Here is a comparison of some of the key durability factors:

Durability Factor Brown Kraft Paper White Bleached Paper
Tensile Strength High tensile strength due to long fibers Lower tensile strength due to short fibers
Wet Strength Retains up to 90% of its strength when wet Can lose up to 90% of strength when wet
Tear Resistance High tear resistance Lower tear resistance
Burst Strength High burst strength and resistance to punctures Lower burst strength
Fold Endurance Can withstand more folds before tearing Lower fold endurance

As the table illustrates, brown kraft paper outperforms white bleached paper across several durability metrics including tensile strength, wet strength, tear resistance, burst strength, and fold endurance. This durability makes it better suited for bags, wrapping, and packaging applications.

Environmental Impact

Here is a comparison of some of the key environmental factors related to brown kraft paper and white bleached paper:

Environmental Factor Brown Kraft Paper White Bleached Paper
Bleaching Process No bleaching chemicals used Requires harsh bleaching chemicals
Recyclability Highly recyclable Can be more difficult to recycle due to chemical residues
Renewable Source Made from wood pulp – a renewable resource Made from wood pulp – a renewable resource
Biodegradability Biodegrades more quickly than bleached paper Can be slower to biodegrade due to chemical residues
Carbon Footprint Lower carbon footprint than bleached paper Higher carbon footprint due to chemical processing

Brown kraft paper is considered a more eco-friendly choice compared to bleached white paper. The lack of harsh bleaching chemicals makes it more readily recyclable and biodegradable. Overall, kraft paper has a lower carbon footprint through its lifecycle.

Common Uses

Here are some of the common uses of brown kraft paper bags versus white paper bags:

Brown Kraft Paper Bags

  • Grocery bags
  • Shopping bags
  • Parcel packaging
  • Shipping sacks
  • Food packaging
  • Industrial packaging

Brown kraft paper bags are the preferred choice for these uses due to their durability, strength, and earth-friendly qualities. Major grocery chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have switched to kraft paper bags.

White Paper Bags

  • Department store bags
  • Boutique and apparel bags
  • Fast food carryout bags
  • Prescription bags
  • Gift bags

For lighter duty applications like retail shopping bags and gift bags, bleached white paper is often preferred for its attractive appearance. However, some retailers are switching to brown kraft bags for environmental reasons.

Cost Comparison

Brown kraft paper bags tend to be more expensive than white paper bags. Here’s a look at some of the factors affecting relative cost:

Cost Factor Brown Kraft Paper White Paper
Raw Material More expensive wood pulp due to higher quality Cheaper bleached wood pulp
Manufacturing Simpler and fewer processing steps Additional bleaching and processing required
Bag Design Usually basic bags without specialized design Bleached paper allows for printed designs
Volume Produced Produced in lower quantities Mass produced

The higher quality wood pulp and lower production volumes make brown kraft paper more expensive per bag compared to mass-produced bleached white paper bags. However, the durability and eco-friendly qualities provide additional value.

Brown vs White Paper Bag Properties Comparison

Here is a summary comparison of some of the key properties of brown kraft paper bags versus white bleached paper bags:

Property Brown Kraft Paper Bags White Bleached Paper Bags
Strength Very strong and durable Moderate strength
Wet Strength Retains strength when wet Loses strength when wet
Tear Resistance High tear resistance Moderate tear resistance
Appearance Kraft brown color Bright white color
Printability Low printability High printability
Recyclability Readily recyclable Less recyclable due to chemical residues
Biodegradability Biodegrades readily Slower to biodegrade
Cost Higher cost per bag Lower cost per bag


When choosing between brown kraft paper bags and white bleached paper bags, there are a few key considerations:

  • Brown kraft paper is substantially stronger and more durable, making it preferable for robust packaging uses.
  • White bleached paper has a nicer aesthetic appearance, allowing for printed designs.
  • Brown kraft paper is more environmentally friendly and renewable.
  • White bleached paper bags have a lower upfront cost.
  • The intended use, strength needs, design requirements, and sustainability preferences should inform the choice between brown and white.

Understanding the unique properties and tradeoffs allows businesses and consumers to select the right paper bag type for their specific needs and priorities.