In the aftermath of pressure from environmental groups and legislators, the California Environmental Protection Agency has lowered the estimated plastic bag recycling rate in the 11th-grade teachers' guide of the state's K-12 environmental curriculum.
The revised text also deletes a section that had listed several advantages of plastic bags. Among them: that plastic grocery bags require 70 percent less energy to manufacture than paper bags, that they cost less to transport, that they can be reused and that they can be recycled and made into different products. Also deleted was a list of five questions that students could use to determine whether there were advantages to plastic shopping bags.
Instead, the revised guide, issued Oct. 26, simply says “plastic bags are durable, lightweight and take up less space than paper bags … and can be recycled.”
With regard to the plastic bag recycling rate, the new text hedges on what that rate may be, saying that “recycling rates specific to plastic shopping bags are not currently calculated by state or federal agencies.”
However, the revised guide does include a reference to a CalRecycle estimate suggesting that recycling rates for plastic bags distributed by stores in California was 3 percent in 2009; and another to an EPA estimate that the nationwide recycling rate for bags, sacks and plastic wrap is 9 percent.
The previous version of the guide, issued in August 2011, had said that 12 percent of Americans recycle plastic bags and film, triggering an outcry from both environmentalists and legislators. That 12 percent figure was taken from federal EPA data submitted to the California EPA by the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council in Washington, which has denied trying to influence the curriculum.
“When Cal/EPA developed its curricula, the agency ... [invited public comment] on draft versions,” said Steve Russell, vice president of ACC's plastics department. “The purpose of our comments was to correct factual inaccuracies, and to present a more complete view of plastic bags.
“Even some of ACC's critics agree that we simply did what we and others were asked to do.”