It was recently uncovered evidence that lobbyists from the plastics industry used their influence to insert misleading positive messages about plastic bags into environmental curriculum used by the California school system.
Interviews and documents uncovered during the California Watch investigation show that “in 2009, a private consultant hired by state school officials added a new section to the 11th-grade teacher’s edition textbook called ‘The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags.’ The title and some of the textbook language were inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the chemistry council.”
The curriculum revision was the result of significant pressure applied to California school officials through an American Chemistry Council public relations and lobbying campaign designed to fight proposed plastic bag bans throughout the country.
As public awareness about the negative environmental impact of making, transporting and disposing of plastic bags has grown over the past few years, the plastics industry has redoubled its efforts to keep this wasteful and unnecessary packaging in circulation.
- It is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
- A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill, and plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
- The extremely slow decomposition rate of plastic bags leaves them to drift on the ocean for untold years. According to Algalita Marine Research Foundation, these plastic bags cause the death of many marine animals (fish, sea turtles, etc.), every year when animals mistake them for food.
- The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion.
With complete disregard for these well-documented facts, the plastics industry used its influence to insert misleading points like, “Plastic shopping bags are very convenient to use. They take less energy to manufacture than paper bags, cost less to transport, and can be reused,” into teaching materials.
SF Gate reports that Sen. Fran Pavley, author of the 2003 legislation requiring that environmental principles and concepts be taught in the state’s public schools, was unaware of the lobby’s efforts until contacted by California Watch. After hearing about the chemical industry additions and edits, Pavley said she would write to Cal/EPA to ask officials to remove some of the trade group’s additions. She said the rest of the curriculum was excellent.
Despite the industry’s best efforts, LA County, San Francisco, San Jose and Long Beach have already banned plastic bags and similar measures are up for approval across the country and around the world.
Image Credit: Flickr – kengz