New Ways In Teaching About Plastic Bags


The hazards of plastic bags on wildlife and the environment have long been highlighted in high school textbooks, but a recent initiative has resulted in a controversial alteration in information regarding plastic bags.

California Watch, an investigative reporting group for the state, published an article on Aug. 19 about this change in textbooks and teachers guides in the Education and the Environment (EEI) Curriculum.

Revised facts include an increase in the percentage of recycled plastic bags in the United States. The text previously indicated that Americans recycle approximately 1%, but the new version states that about 12% of plastic bags are recycled each year.

In 2009 a section titled “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags” was added to the teachers’ edition textbook.

The new figure is based on a 2007 report by the Environmental Protection Agency on municipal waste, and was cited by Alyson Thomas, a senior account executive of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

The report by California Watch detailed that the change occurred at approximately the same time as a public relations and lobbying effort by the American Chemistry Council to fight a proposed nation-wide ban on plastic bags.

“The lessons that are used to teach our public school students must be free of undue influence by special interests, whether they represent industry or environmentalists,” California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement.

The change has resulted in opposition from Californians Against Waste, a non-profit environmental research and advocacy organization.

The organization’s executive director Mark Murray said the group has asked Torlakson and the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA) to withdraw the curriculum, eliminate the incorrect information, and replace it with accurate facts.

The Cal EPA and state department of education were responsible for developing and reviewing the curriculum.

In every textbook adoption, part of the process includes a period where the public is welcome to comment on the proposed text.

“Our frustration is that [the American Chemistry Council was] able to enter the process after stakeholder input was already closed,” Murray said.

However, Bryan Ehlers, Cal EPA assistant secretary of education and quality programs, said comments were received during the public comment period. He also said that the focus of the California Watch article was on one lesson within one of the 85 units in the curriculum.

“It’s a very limited portion [of the curriculum], because we’re talking about thousands and thousands and pages of curriculum,” he said.

Ehlers added that the curriculum with this modified unit has not yet been implemented by any school districts.

“Great means were taken throughout the process to ensure the accuracy but we will make more efforts just to be absolutely sure.”

The new curriculum is currently being reviewed, and Murray hopes the modified information will not be exposed to high school students.

“The curriculum is in a handful of schools right now being tested but we are confident that the state department of education will recognize that the information was included in the curriculum erroneously, and it will be removed in subsequent editions,” he said.

The EEI Curriculum is currently implemented in several K-12 school districts throughout the state. It consists of 85 units of select science and history-social science academic standards, as detailed on the Cal EPA website.