Bag It! The Fight over Grocery Bags

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plasticbag1Filled with groceries, stuffed under cabinets, tumbling down city streets, drifting with the breeze, floating across the ocean. Plastic bags are everywhere, including many places they should not be. To environmentalists, plastic bags have become the symbol of waste. Lawmakers in California aim to eliminate plastic bags by passing a state-wide ban. The proposed law, SB 270, prohibits single-use plastic bags at grocery stores beginning in July, 2015. SB 270 requires liquor and drug stores to comply with the ban beginning in 2016.  Instead, consumers will be able to buy a paper bag or a more durable plastic bag. Lawmakers and environmentalists hope that more consumers will begin using reusable bags and that fewer plastic bags will fill landfills and litter California’s beaches, parks, and green spaces. If the law passes as expected later this year, California will become the second state in the nation to ban plastic grocery bags. (Hawaii banned plastic grocery bags in 2012.)To match feature USA-ENVIRONMENT/PLASTICBAGS

California is often at the forefront of environmentally friendly legislation so the nation is watching the outcome of SB 270. What are the pros and cons of the plastic bag? How will the loss of the plastic grocery bag affect grocers, consumers, and the plastics industry? This week, explore the ins and outs of the plastic bag. As you hear from both sides, record your questions and reactions.

A Bag’s Life

The fight over the plastic bag has a lot to do with its life cycle—how it is made, how long it is used, and where it ends up. Discovery/Science’s show, How It’s Made: Plastic Bags, introduces viewers to the beginning of the cycle. Examine the infographic Life Cycle of a Plastic Bag to see the rest of the cycle and to begin to understand why a lightweight like the plastic bag generates such concern and attention.

plasticbag5Bag the Ban

The life of the plastic bag might seem lonely, and now that it is targeted by lawmakers, doomed. But the plastic bag does have supporters. People in the plastics industry have come out fighting, defending the maligned plastic bag. Hilex-Poly, an American company that makes plastic bags, sponsors the Bag the Ban campaign, a political and advertising campaign designed to fight proposed bans on plastic bags across the United States. As you examine the materials from their campaign, consider what the plastics industry is trying to protect and what evidence they present to support their position.plasticbag4

Begin with an infographic to see why they believe plastic bags make sense. Watch the video, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Banning Plastic Bags to hear how plastic bags are both environmentally and economically important. According to the plastics industry, plastic bags are not wasteful; they are recyclable and reusable.

Ban the Bag

Californians Against Waste (CAW) would disagree. According to CAW, plastic bags are a “problem” and a “menace.” As you read their materials, consider the reasons ban supporters give and the evidence they site to support their position. Visit the CAW website and read why plastic is a financial and environmental problem. Hop over to for an infographic that explains how plastic bags are suffocating the world. Watch the mockumentary film, Plastic Bags—Their Cycle of Life for a tongue-in-cheek view of the life cycle of the plastic bag and its place in our circle of life. Revisit the CAW website and read common anti-ban myths.

plasticbag2The idea of life without a plastic bag is not new. There was a time when consumers did not rely on plastic bags. Grocery stores introduced plastic bags during the 1980s. Discover how to live without plastic bags. There are many options for reusable bags. View a selection of reusable bags and compare the resources used to create paper and plastic bags.

What to do about plastic bags is an issue for government leaders, environmentalists, and consumers across the country and around the world. What action you decide is best depends on what you are trying to protect. Examine an interactive world map that displays how different places approach plastic bags. Click on a pin and then read more in the left menu. Read about Ireland, China, and locations pinned in your home state. Click on one red, one blue, and one green pin to compare different solutions.


Newspaper Activitiesplasticbag6

Plastic bags made national news last week because of California's proposed state ban. What other daily objects are in the news because they feature prominently in economic, entertainment, political, or health news? Read the local newspaper this week with an eye for everyday items.  Clip an article that features an everyday object. Write an ode- a poem celebrating the uses and features of that object.

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