Fall 2011


To Ban or Not to Ban

Student Research Helps Arcata Weigh Plastic Bag Embargo

TO BAN PLASTIC BAGS or not: That is one of the questions facing the Arcata City Council. Student-led research is helping them find an answer.

The research was conducted in Engineering 308, an Environmental Resources Engineering course led by instructor Lonny Grafman (read about Appropedia.org, another project led by Grafman). Students analyzed both the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags and what kind of effect a citywide ban would have.

Among the students’ findings: Arcata shoppers use between 3 million and 5 million plastic bags annually. The energy that went into manufacturing those 3 million plastic bags is comparable to powering 774 desktop computers, eight hours a day for one year.

Grafman says students in the class learn how to use math and science to understand the environmental impacts of products and technologies—including the impacts of single-use plastic bags—and then use that information for real-world applications.

Although the student research is not a legal document like an environmental impact report, it does contain customized information that the city council might not otherwise have access to.

At this point, no decision on the city wide ban has been reached and the debate is ongoing.