Florida Gulf Coast University Environmental Impact of Paper Bags Questions



One of the alternative energy sources that you learned about this week was Hydropower. We’ve been damming rivers for a long while now and there aren’t a lot of fast moving rivers still out there that haven’t been dammed. So it’s not exactly the energy source of the future (though other forms of hydropower: tidal, wave power, etc, do have potential).

Here  in Washington State, dams on rivers emptying into the ocean prevent salmon and other migrating fish from moving upstream. That’s why the state is taking a close look at existing dams and reevaluating their usefulness.  One dam that didn’t make the cut is the Elwha River dam. The state undertook a huge dam removal and restoration project in this area. This is the subject of this week’s assignment.

The assignment:

Go here  (Links to an external site.)to read the interactive Seattle Times article on the Elwha River dam. (If you’ve used up your article views for the month, just use a different browser or your friend’s computer). The article allows you to click on different animals to see their effects.

http://projects.seattletimes.com/2016/elwha/ (Links to an external site.)

Answer the following Questions:

  1. Where is the Elwha River Dam? Have you ever been there or driven by it?
  2. Dams are a reliable source of renewable energy. So why are we starting to remove some of them?
  3. How much does the dam removal project cost? Why do you think it costs so much?
  4. What’s the deal with logs? Why did we move some of them and why are they so important to the river?
  5. Some environmentalists would say that even though hydropower is an alternative energy source, it isn’t exactly a sustainable energy source. What are some reasons it might not be considered sustainable by some people?
  6. List 4 animals that are benefiting from the dam removal and describe how they are affected.
  7. In your opinion, should we be spending money on tearing down dams, building more dams, or neither? Why?


Throughout this class, we talked about ways that you can lower your ecological footprint through the everyday choices that you make. But sometimes things are not so clear. Should I pick paper bags or plastic bags when the grocery clerk asks me? Should I buy disposal diapers for my baby or use (and wash) reusable diapers? 

Even when you try hard to make the best choice, you often learn new information later on that you suggests should’ve done something different. And sometimes the best choice depends on where you live or what you do with the product when you’re done with it!

Getting to the real answer to these dilemmas depends on doing a complete life cycle analysis. This means looking at ALL impacts of your choices: from where and how the materials were mined, to the human health consequences of manufacturing, to the transportation needed to get all the materials from the mine to the factory to the consumer to the “grave”: the landfill or recycling plant where the product ends up.

Performing a complete life cycle analysis is difficult and often requires a lot of research. A friend of mine taught an entire course focused solely on the choice between disposable and cloth diapers! The purpose of this week’s discussion is to think about what kinds of questions go into that research. What did that class have to figure out in order to solve that dilemma? 

For this week’s assignment post pick one of these “choices”and outline at least ten of the potential impacts of each step of the life cycle of those products. Tell me what things you would have to research and find out to be able to make a decision on which choice was “greener”. You’ll also have to consider what “greener” means: is saving energy more important than saving water? If a choice uses less energy but pollutes rivers in developing nations, is it really more sustainable?

When you come up with your outline, think about all the materials that are used to make that product, where they come from, and how that product gets to you and what you do with it when you’re done. You might want to frame your ten impacts in the form of research questions, or just a bulleted list of considerations. Remember, the goal is not to attach numbers to each impact or attempt to figure out which one is better. Impacts might be related to energy and transportation consumption, environmental damage, human health hazards, or social costs like the working conditions of the people involved in the creation or transportation of the item. 

For inspiration, watch this video  (Links to an external site.)about the life cycle of a simple t-shirt.

Here are some examples of choices to use for this assignment, but feel free to come up with one on your own.

Is it better to:

  • Use cloth or disposable diapers?
  • Buy an e-reader or stick to paper books?
  • Buy a new Prius or keep my old car?
  • Ask for Paper or Plastic Bags?
  • Eat organic tomatoes or locally grown tomatoes?
  • Cook chicken or fish for dinner tonight?
  • Buy new windows for your home or reinsulate?
  • Serve drinks in paper cups or plastic cups?
  • Install bamboo or hardwood floors?
  • Wear clothing made of bamboo or organic cotton?
  • Put up a real Christmas tree or an artificial tree?