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Grocery Store Bans Plastic Bags



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
--Applied Math
--Physical Science
----Earth Science
Social Studies
--Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

The paper vs. plastic debate goes on Will other stores follow the lead set by the Whole Foods grocery chain?

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, present students with a 2-column chart. Write the word Paper at the top of one column and Plastic at the top of the other. Many students will be familiar with the Paper bag vs. Plastic bag debate, which has been raging for decades. Ask students to identify anything they know about the advantages of paper or plastic bags. Write the advantages students share in the appropriate columns. Students will revisit this chart after reading this weeks news article.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: grocery, eliminate, recycle, reusable, disposable, and landfill. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • Hundreds of seagulls hovered above the _____ in search of food to eat. (landfill)
  • Paper coffee cups are _____, but plastic mugs are _____. (disposable, reusable)
  • Some people in our community are fighting against construction of a big-chain _____ store because they think it might put smaller stores out of business. (grocery)
  • The league playoffs will _____ many teams from the final championship. (eliminate)
  • You need to tie up that cardboard before you put it in the _____ bin. (recycle)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Grocery Store Bans Plastic Bags.

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

  • Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

  • Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

  • Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

  • Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

  • More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

    Whole Foods plans to eliminate disposable plastic grocery bags in all of its 270 stores in the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. This is something our customers want us to do," says A.C. Gallo, Whole Foods co-president. It's central to our core values of caring for communities and the environment."

    In place of the plastic bags, Whole Foods will offer several options:

  • a rebate of at least a nickel for every bag customers bring in to reuse
  • reusable bags, called Better Bags," which are made from recycled plastic bottles and sell in Whole Foods stores for 99 cents each
  • canvas bags, which sell for $6.99 and up
  • free paper bags made from 100 percent recycled paper

    On the day that Whole Foods announced its plan to do away with plastic, the company celebrated by giving out more than 50,000 reusable shopping bags to customers at its stores checkouts. We hope to inspire shoppers to promote positive environmental change by adopting the reusable bag mindset," said Gallo.

    In addition to encouraging Earth-friendly bags, Whole Foods stores use all-natural fiber packaging at its salad and food bars.

    Whole Foods is a small grocery chain compared to many others, but it always has been considered a trendsetter. It was among the first stores to sell organic foods, and now most of the large grocery chains sell them. Will the big chains follow suit on this issue?

    Whole Foods is not the only store that encourages customers to bring their own bags. Ikeas U.S. stores charge 5 cents for each plastic bag; most of the money the stores collect is donated to a conservation group.

    The move by Whole Foods is a big deal," Lisa Mastny, a director at Worldwatch, told USA Today. Worldwatch estimates that U.S. consumers use 300 billion plastic bags a year.

    Plastic bag litter has become a big problem in some places. Countries such as Ireland, Taiwan, South Africa, and Australia heavily tax the bags, or they have banned them altogether. Many other cities and countries are considering similar actions.

    In support of plastic, the American Plastics Council says 80 percent of grocery and convenience stores use plastic bags because they are cheap to produce, sturdy, plentiful, and easy to carry. The Film and Bag Federation says production of plastic bags consumes 40 percent less energy and the bags generate 80 percent less solid waste than paper bags do.

    The American Chemistry Council estimates that 92 percent of people re-use their plastic bags. Laurie Kusek, a spokeswoman for the American Plastics Council, said the industry works with stores to encourage customers to recycle plastic bags. Some companies, including companies that use the bags to produce building materials, are eager to get their hands on consumers recycled plastic bags.

    Vincent Cobb, who has launched a Web site called, estimates that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Through his site, he hopes he can make people see that both paper and plastic bags are harmful to the environment. People should end the paper vs. plastic debate once and for all by using reusable bags, he said.

    Comprehension Check

    Now that students have read the news article and you have shared the More Facts to Share" above, revisit the chart they created in the Anticipation Guide part of this lesson. Ask students to identify and add to the chart any new advantages/disadvantages they have learned. You might ask students to use the information they have collected to share their thoughts about which is better -- paper or plastic?

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • Why has the Whole Foods grocery chain decided to eliminate plastic bags from its stores? (Accept reasoned responses; for example, to cut down on the amount of trash that ends up in landfills, to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags...)
  • When does Whole Foods plan to eliminate plastic? (in time for Earth Day 2008)
  • What are some of the ways in which scientists say plastic bags harm the environment? (they clog drains, harm wildlife, fill up landfills)
  • Which U.S. city was the first to ban plastic bags? (San Francisco)
  • How many plastic bags a year do people in the U.S. use? (Some experts say we use 100 billion a year, or 330 for every person.)

    Think About the News
    Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. Have students track the number of bags their families bring into their homes. At the end of the week, let students share ways in which their families might cut the number of plastic bags they use.

    Ask students to find the line in the news article that reads Some people say we should stop trashing" plastic bags. Talk about what that sentence means. Do students understand the double meaning of the word trashing? Help young students understand that the meaning here is not the literal meaning of trashing" (throwing away). Instead, the word is used in a more figurative way; proponents of plastic feel that people should stop trashing (trash-talking, complaining about, denouncing, protesting) the use of plastic.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Language arts -- write a letter. Not all customers are happy with the announcement made by owners of the Whole Foods grocery chain. One customer wrote a letter of complaint. He said that he will miss the plastic bags because he uses them for tossing out garbage. Challenge students to imagine they are the Whole Foods employee who must respond to that customers complaint. Have students write the letter they would write if they were that Whole Foods employee.

    Math -- estimating. The president of Whole Foods estimates that its ban on plastic bags could cut consumption of plastic bags by 100 million this year. Estimating" is a complex math skill. Talk about how the Whole Foods president might be able to make such an estimate. (He might know how many plastic bags Whole Foods customers use each month, so he can interpolate yearly consumption from that number.) To help students understand the concept of estimation, you might ask them to

  • identify how many plastic bags they use each week. At that rate, how many will they use in a month? In a year?
  • identify how much money they spend each week in the school cafeteria. At that rate, how much do they estimate they will spend in a month? In nine months of the school year?
  • identify how much TV they watch each week. At that rate, how many hours of TV do they watch in a month? In a year?
    Next, you might bring out a jar filled with Valentine heart candy, peanuts, or pennies. Talk about the methods students might use to estimate (not guess) the total number of items in the jar. If your students need another estimation challenge, you might challenge them to estimate the number of names in the local phone book. (See the Education World lesson plan Let Your Fingers Do the Estimating for the complete activity.)

    Science. How long does trash last in a landfill? Provide students with a list of trash items and ask them to work in small groups to determine which items will decompose most quickly in a landfill and which will last longest. For example, which will last longer in a landfill -- a sheet of paper or a banana peel? Then students compare their sequence with scientists best guesses. See the entire lesson plan at How Long Does Trash Last?


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.1 Reading for Perspective
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
    NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
    NL-ENG.K-12.7 Evaluating Data
    NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    MATHEMATICS: Number and Operations
    GRADES Pre-K - 2
    NM-NUM.PK-2.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
    GRADES 3 - 5
    NM-NUM.3-5.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
    GRADES 6 - 8
    NM-NUM.6-8.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NM-NUM.9-12.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.4 Earth and Space Science
    NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.4 Earth and Space Science
    NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.4 Earth and Space Science
    NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-C.K-4.5 Roles of the Citizen

    GRADES 5 - 8
    NSS-C.5-8.5 Roles of the Citizen
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NSS-C.9-12.5 Roles of the Citizen

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2008 Education World