What’s the Bag Deal?

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MAIN TOPIC OF VIDEO: Pros and cons of plastic and paper bags

Episode05 copy



  1. What is carbon footprint?
  2. How do carbon footprints relate to climate change?
  3. Which is better- paper or plastic bags?
  4. Which material is more easily recyclable, paper or plastic?
  5. Which material can biodegrade completely, paper or plastic?


  1. What is the carbon footprint of paper bags?
  2. What is the carbon footprint of plastic bags?
  3. Why is it important to consider the things that go into the bag?
  4. What do you think about reusable/washable bags?
  5. How can we get people to change their buying habits?


  1. What kind of bags do you and/or your parents use most often?
  2. Considering what you have just seen and heard, how would you respond when asked, “paper or plastic?”
  3. How could you try to convince someone to recycle shopping bags?
  4. What’s your carbon footprint like?
  5. How could we help people become more environmentally sensitive to the kinds of things they buy?



  1. Carbon Footprint:  The measure of carbon dioxide governments, businesses, and individuals are responsible for.  For example, the amount of carbon-based greenhouse gas emissions produced by power stations that burn fossil fuels to generate electricity and/or by transportation that uses oil-based fuels that a person is responsible for.  The more electricity and fuel used, the bigger the footprint.
  2. Carbon-based greenhouse gases are one of the gases that act like a greenhouse and trap solar heat next to the earth preventing the heat from escaping.
  3. Which is better, paper or plastic, depends on what is being considered.  Both can be recycled, plastic does not decompose in land fills, forests are still being cut down to make pulp for paper, and plastic is made from fossil fuels.
  4. Both paper and plastic can be recycled easily if reused or if recycling collection containers are made conveniently available.
  5. If paper does go into a landfill or is placed in a composting pile, it will decompose fairly quickly.  Plastic, on the other hand, may take hundreds of years to decompose.


  1. Paper bags have a carbon footprint of 117.8 grams of carbon dioxide.
  2. Plastic bags have a carbon footprint of 12.0 grams of carbon dioxide.
  3. How does the carbon footprint of different food differ? Red meat vs. fish, meat vs. vegetables, etc.  For example, producing a kg of beefsteak produces over 42,000 grams of carbon dioxide, frozen codfish, 3,200 gram of carbon dioxide.  Buying locally produced food rather than food that needs to be transported over long distances. What kind of packaging and how much is necessary? Buying foods that are locally in season rather than those that need to be imported. Maybe just buying less. Consider the amount of food that is thrown away and the growing number of adults and children that are seriously overweight.
  4. Re-usable bags are an answer.  How do we get people to use them? Maybe if supermarkets made it financially attractive to bring them in might help. Net-style bags are easier to wash and could be made at  home or in school using macramé weaving, like some of the plant hangers that were popular a few years ago.
  5. Get some ideas from the way advertising gets people to change what they buy and how they behave. Look carefully at TV ads, ads in magazines, statements by famous people.  Kids letting their parents know how important climate change is in their futures and what they want them to do about it.  One of the most effective ways of getting parents to stop smoking has been having their children tell them they don’t want hem to die.


  1. Another opportunity for polling, graphing the data, and considering the results. Class discussion of implications.
  2. Similar to #1. How would you defend your decision? What would you have chosen before you began this lesson?
  3. Use the information from the Focus Section.
  4. There are a number of resources that are designed to help students determine their own basic carbon footprint.  Some are mentioned in the Additional Notes and Resources section that follows.
  5. This would be a class culmination activity.  How are we going to let others know what we know now?  Small groups brain storming certain aspects of the lesson and then reporting back to the class. This is a real opportunity for creative thinking by everyone.


  1. The following suggestions reflect student learning through different modalities.  Many students are visual learners, some learn better in groups, some by themselves.  Giving students the opportunities to demonstrate their artistic and other strengths while engaged in an educational activity results in real learning taking place.
  2. Organize a classroom debate.  You could divide the class in half: one-half in favor of the topic, one-half opposed.  Provide direction and time for research on the topic.  If the class is not familiar with debate format, take time to present the concept with appropriate examples. Possible debate topics: Paper vs. Plastic, Plastic: For and Against, Paper: For and Against, Class suggestions.
  3. Polls.  Poll the class prior to beginning study and then poll them again after they have completed their study.  Look for opportunities to have students explain why they changed their minds or why they didn’t.  Have students individually poll members of their families or neighbors and record data that may have a bearing on their opinions: Age, Don’t know, Never thought about it, etc. If amount of data seems appropriate, conduct a statistical analysis (an area developed in almost all math grade levels): mean, mode, median and what those numbers tell you about the poll.
  4. Math Application.  Watch for opportunities to use topic information in presentation of math topics and homework questions.  Students can also have the opportunity to construct a class question using the information they have.  Appropriate questions could be inserted in tests, etc.  Graph construction and interpretation are popular math topics and are easily developed.  Basic math operations, scaling, predictions, rounding, approximating, etc. are all possibilities.  Maybe even take an entire text chapter and redo it from an environmental perspective.
  5. Language Arts: Creative Writing: What could the Earth be like ____ years from now if we didn’t… poems in a variety of styles, songs, raps, student environmental news sheet, vocabulary puzzles.
  6. Creative Art: Posters presenting a point of view or an area of concern, an editorial cartoon or a cartoon strip, cartoon heroes/enemies to interact with the Green Ninja.  Design t-shirts on a computer and print on iron-on sheets.  (Could be developed into a classroom fundraiser.)
  7. Story Booklets: Have students write and illustrate a simple folded paper booklet dealing with the topic(s) being discussed.
  8. Dramatic Arts: Short play developed around an environmental theme, puppet show.  Could be video taped and shared.
  9. Power points: Working with groups of two or three students, develop short presentations using pictures, graphs, information, etc. downloaded from the Internet.
  10. Mind Stretchers: Brainstorm ideas for additional uses for paper and plastic bags.  Ways to encourage people to recycle (deposits?).
  11. Daily Demos.  Have class and teacher quickly share how they helped the environment since the last class.  (One student stated he had used a tree instead of the toilet to save water!)
  12. Game Design: There are all kinds of possibilities for groups of students to design board games or classroom games with environmental themes.  Consider physical activity games to be played during recess or physical education that involve running, jumping, physical movement.
  13. Using Google Image Search: Locate “Editorial Cartoons- Carbon Footprint” (or Recycling, Paper Bags, Plastic Bags, etc.), print an appropriate cartoon for a class discussion:  What topic is being presented, what is the cartoonist’s point of view, how strong a case is being made?
  14. Puzzles:  There are a number of puzzle-maker programs available on the Internet.  Crossword, word search, etc. are fun activities to use for vocabulary practice and test prep.  If the class has computer access, students designing puzzles can be an interesting assignment.  One excellent site is mentioned in the Resources Section.
  15. Game Shows:  There are a number of Internet sites (some are mentioned in the Resources section), that allow you to quickly set-up TV-style game shows like “So You Want to be a Millionaire,” and “Jeopardy,” that allow you to supply your own questions and answers.  Since many classrooms have Internet projectors or access to one, this is another fun reinforcement group activity.
  16. Climate Science Fair:  This could be a class, grade, or school wide.
  17. Similar to a traditional science fair, but all the projects/ presentations would have a Climate Change theme.



  1. Climate Change Facts: Answers to Common Questions.” Developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.  Very user friendly.  Extensive information.


  1. Harrington, Jonathon (2008).  The Climate Diet: How You Can Cut Carbon, Cut Costs, and Save the Plane, Earthscan, Sterling, VA – A wealth of information on carbon footprints and comparative data. Numerous lists on what you can do to reduce your footprint.
  2. Woodward, John (2008).  Eyewitness Books: Climate Change, DK Publishing, New York, NY – The quality is typical of Eyewitness Books.  Topics are explained in easy to understand text with hundreds of illustrations.
  3. Gore, Al (2006).  An Inconvenient Truth (DVD), Paramount Pictures Hollywood, CA  – The Bible of Global Warming.  His film and the book developed from it resulted in Gore winning the Nobel Prize.

Credit: This teacher resource has been adapted from content originally developed by Don Loveless.



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