California Schools Allowed Plastics Industry Edits to Textbooks

How far will industry groups go to protect their interests? A recent exposé by California Watch shows that some will take their PR campaigns to the schools. California school officials edited an environmental curriculum after being pressured by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to endorse plastic shopping bags, according to California Watch. It all began in 2004 when the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put together a team of stakeholders to help with the curriculum, the team included a representative from the ACC. In 2009, ACC sent a letter filled with suggested edits for a section on plastic bags in the 11th-grade text book.

The California Watch exposé points out that in 2009 the ACC was waging a PR campaign against proposed state and city plastic shopping bag bans across the U.S. A year later, the ACC managed to help stop California state legislation that would have imposed a ban on plastic shopping bags. However, the ACC could not stop San Francisco and Los Angeles County from enacting bans.

During 2009, California school officials hired a private consultant who added a section to the 11-grade teachers’ edition textbook called “The Advantages of Plastic Shopping Bags.” The expose states that the “title and some of the textbook language were inserted almost verbatim from letters written by the chemistry council.”

Four questions were also added to a workbook, and one of the questions asks students “What are the advantages of using plastic shopping bags?” The teachers’ edition states that 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.”

The state paid the State Education and Environmental Roundtable, a nonprofit group almost $2.4 million from 2004 to 2010 for consulting on the curriculum. Gerald Lieberman, director of the State Education and Environmental Roundtable, said, “I had total control, really, about what comments I accepted or didn’t accept.”

Lieberman added, “Even the ones that came internally. I was happy to have that. It meant I could get it done the way I thought was best.”

After Lieberman received a copy of the letter with the ACC’s criticisms of the 11-grade curriculum, according to the expose, the changes to the plastic shopping bag section were made. The ACC letter said, “To counteract what is perceived as an exclusively negative positioning of plastic bags issues, we recommend adding a section here entitled ‘Benefits of Plastic Shopping Bags.”

Bryan Ehlers, the California EPA’s assistant secretary for education and quality programs, said that other states expressed an interest in using the California textbooks, including Delaware and Maryland.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson issued a statement on August 19 that his staff will work with California EPA “to identify any material where further review may be warranted.”

Photo: Flickr user, kafka4prez

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

Leave a Reply