Big bag ban

big bag ban imageThe EU has recently approved tough new measures to slash the use of plastic bags. New targets will force each country to reduce plastic bag use by 80% before 2019.
In this activity students examine degradable plastic bags as a possible alternative to ordinary plastic bags. They choose questions to ask experts, and come to a reasoned decision in answer to the dilemma question: will degradable plastic bags solve the problems caused by ordinary plastic bags?

Learning objective

In this lesson students will decide whether to replace ordinary polythene bags with degradable bags using:

  • Materials: properties of polymers
  • Science in society: evaluate the merits of a solution to a real-world problem

Try the activity

Please note: A new version of the presentation was uploaded 15 June 2015.

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Curriculum link

England National Curriculum KS3:

  • Working Scientifically:  Analysis and evaluation: Present reasoned explanations
  • Chemistry: Materials: Properties of polymers

GCSE Combined Science subject content:

  • Working Scientifically:  Development of scientific thinking: explain everyday and technological applications of science; evaluate associated personal, social, economic and environmental implications; and make decision based on the evaluation of evidence and arguments
  • Chemistry: Chemical bonding: describe and compare the nature and arrangement of chemical bonds in..polymers…

Running the activity

Starter The EU has imposed limits on plastic bag use. Will degradable plastic bags solve the problems caused by ordinary plastic bags?
Main Students are reminded about the structure of polythene, and its properties. They choose questions to ask experts to solve the dilemma question
Plenary Students reflect on the decision and peer-assess each others’ responses

For detailed running notes, download the teachers guide.


News story

The EU demands for a reduction in plastic bag use.

Article about biodegradable plastics

Are they better for the environment? This article is accessible to students.

Newspaper article 

This article is about research on biodegradable plastic bags.

Background reading on degradable plastics

Very long and detailed report of research literature on degradable bags, for teacher reference.

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  • camhead says:

    Interesting real-life UK topic issue!

    My Year 6’s used this as part of a ‘Real Life Science’ week in the summer term last year to explore current issues that affect them in their daily lives.

    They were thoroughly engaged and, as a result, came up with some brilliant discussion points on the subject matter.

  • dclay says:

    Big Bag Ban

    Always great to have an issue to discuss. This lesson is perfect as it has affected the whole of the UK in the last few years

  • Yael Shwartz says:

    Big Bag Ban in students’ conference

    Chemistry Students’ Convention in Petah-Tikva City, Israel
    On last Monday, 29/2/2016, we conducted the first convention for chemistry students of Petah-Tikva City in our school (“Rav-Thumi Petah-Tikva Bet”).
    In the second phase of the convention, students exhibited their works, and in another phase, 11th and 12th graders from our school and from other schools made a discussion about plastic bags, following the instructions from the Engage project materials.
    Our school students were required to be “the experts” in the field, and the other students asked them questions about the subject.
    Finally, the students decided to recommend on using biodegradable bags. At the end of the discussion, the students reported that they had had fun and interest, and some of them reported that they want to know a little more, and become experts in the subject.

    Posted on behalf or the teacher Ms. Dekalo

  • biorocks says:

    Big Bag Ban

    excellent activity, thank you.

    • Philippa says:

      Thank you

      Thank you, Biorocks, for taking the time to comment. Glad you liked the activity! Philippa, from the writing team.