Teach the Earth > Urban Geology > Teaching Activity Ideas > Paper or Plastic? Recognizing Environmental Tradeoffs

This is a partially developed activity description. It is included in the collection because it contains ideas useful for teaching even though it is incomplete.

Paper or Plastic? Recognizing Environmental Tradeoffs

Lawrence D. Lemke
Wayne State University
Topic: Environmental Geology
Natural Resources
Course Type:intro upper level


In this activity students explore the tradeoffs inherent in almost every environmentally-motivated decision. Students identify an environmental choice and then investigate the pro's and con's associated with that environmental decision. Examples include:
- Paper or plastic grocery bags?
- Incandescent or compact fluorescent light bulbs?
- Fossil fuel or nuclear power?
- Paper towels or electric hand dryers in restrooms?
- Gasoline or ethanol powered vehicles?
- Land filling or incinerating municipal solid waste?
- Inexpensive energy or environmental protection?


Students will recognize that there is no simple right or wrong solution to most environmental concerns and that almost every human activity has potential intended or unintended consequences. Decisions therefore ultimately reflect values and attitudes that may lie outside the realm of scientific or technical analyses.


Students present their findings in a written paragraph or a short oral presentation.