The state’s Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a revision of a controversial K-12 environmental curriculum on plastic bags. California Watch reported last year that whole sections of an 11th-grade teachers’ edition guide for a new curriculum had been lifted almost verbatim from comments and suggestions submitted by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical and plastics industry trade group. That investigation spurred politicians and state regulators to demand an examination into how the controversial text was compiled and changed, and whether industry bias was present.
The new text provides more updated statistics on plastic bag consumption and recycling rates, many of which were provided by California Watch in its story on the textbook. For instance, while the old text used a statistic offered by the American Chemistry Council indicating that 12 percent of Americans recycle plastic shopping bags, the new text notes “recycling rates specific to plastic shopping bags are not currently calculated by state or federal agencies.” It also refers to a CalRecycle’s estimate, which suggests that recycling rates may be as low as 3 percent. “We think the curriculum is excellent, and this process gave us the opportunity to go through it with a fine-toothed comb, getting at the same goal of producing a thoughtful and reasoned discussion about the consequences of consumption,” said Bryan Ehlers, assistant secretary of education and quality programs at Cal/EPA.
In 2003, a state law was enacted requiring environmental concepts and principles be taught to all of California’s K-12 public school students. Cal/EPA outsourced the development and editing of the curriculum to Gerald Lieberman, director of the State Education and Environment Roundtable. The roundtable is a nonprofit group originally developed by departments of education in sixteen states to enhance environmental education in schools. In 2009, after the curriculum had been written, the state posted final drafts of the text online for public review. It was during that period that a public relations specialist hired by the American Chemistry Council submitted comments, edits, and suggestions on the text. Lieberman incorporated nearly all of the trade group’s suggestions, including adding a new section to the text called “Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags.” The American Chemistry Council did not reply to a California Watch request to respond to the new revisions.