Plastics industry editing California textbooks
August 21, 2011
Under pressure from the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the plastics industry, schools officials in California edited a new environmental curriculum to include positive messages about plastic shopping bags, interviews and documents show. [CaliforniaWatch]
The rewritten textbooks and teachers’ guides coincided with a public relations and lobbying effort by the chemistry council to fight proposed plastic bag bans throughout the country. But despite the positive message, activists say there is no debate: Plastic bags kill marine animals, leech toxic chemicals and take an estimated 1,000 years to decompose in landfills, California Watch said.
In 2009, California school officials hired a private consultant to add a new section to the 11th-grade teachers’ edition textbook called “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags.” The new section mimics almost verbatim letters written by the chemistry council.
Although the curriculum includes the environmental hazards of plastic bags, the consultant also added a five-point question to a workbook asking students to list some advantages, California Watch added.
According to the teachers’ edition, the correct answer is: “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.”
Grocery stores and other retailers spend about $4 billion a year to purchase the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use each year, most of which end up in the trash.
“The American Chemistry Council obviously got engaged to protect their bottom line,” said Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica to California Watch.
Also under fire for alleged skewed curriculum, Scholastic Inc. agreed to limit corporate motivated educational materials following pressure from parents and education groups to stop distributing fourth-grade curriculum paid for by the coal industry.
In 2004, Cal/EPA called together a team of stakeholders – including industry trade groups and environmental organizations – to provide advice on writing the new curriculum. The chemistry council was critical of a section that portrayed plastic bags as harmful to the environment and suggested edits.
At the time, the plastic industry was fighting state and city plastic shopping bag bans across the country. In 2010, it successfully squashed legislation that would have banned plastic bags in the state. It was not so successful in San Francisco and Los Angeles County, which in recent years have imposed bans, California Watch said.
“Parents should be outraged that their kids are going to be potentially taught bogus facts written by a plastic-industry consultant suggesting advantages of plastic bags,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, a recycling and environmental lobbying group.