The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 25, 2008

Bag Monsters afoot…

Have you seen the plastic Bag Monster? I see it all over the place. Blowing down the street, clogging the gutter, floating in Lake Merritt, and even hiding in my own kitchen. I shot this quick footage of a Bag Monster battle taking place on the steps of SF City Hall last November:

But seriously. I’ve written about plastic bags before, and I think that most folks reading this blog already have strong opinions about them. But recently, I’ve come across some stories on the web that sum up the problems of plastic bags eloquently and comprehensively, and I’d like to share them with you, as well as a story of a guy who’s out busting the bag monster in a way that’s humorous and attention-getting.

The first story is Plastic Bags Are Killing Us from It was forwarded to me by Green Mary, a woman I plan to write more about later. This article starts near my home with a description of a group fishing plastic bags out of Lake Merritt and goes on to give a terrific summary of the arguments against plastic bags as well counter-arguments and rebuttals. (Sound like a California election guide?) The video on the second page is worth watching, as a San Francisco recycling expert explains why plastic bags are such a problem in the recycling stream.

The next story is Paper or Plastic, a 5-minute radio piece from KQED, which was forwarded to me by an intern at the station. About the San Francisco plastic bag ban, it covers some of the same territory as the Salon piece with a cool interview a little over halfway through with Professor William Rathje, an archaeologist of garbage (garbologist) discussing what happens to trash in a landfill and why plastic bags are a blessing and a curse.

Benn Davenport is a Bag Monster Buster. On the site,, he uses humor to inspire readers to “adopt a healthy reusable bag habit and support sensible bag laws that improve environmental health.” In an email to me, he described his hopes and goals: I want people to laugh as we learn how to improve the environment, and most of all, I want people to feel hopeful and empowered! We can make all the change we desire in the world, and we’ll be more successful with smiles on our faces.”

I appreciate Benn’s attitude. He works for ChicoBags, a company that makes reusable nylon tote bags that fold up into a little pouch for easy carrying. Personally, I probably wouldn’t buy ChicoBags because I’d rather use bags made from natural fibers. Benn’s response is, “I understand and agree with how you feel about ChicoBags but keep in mind the company’s goal is to help ‘mainstream’ people kick the single-use bag habit by providing a bag [they] can bring with them anywhere. A bag that helps to create a consistent reusable bag habit.” Another example of the shades of green.

And is a great resource for anyone looking for further information on the plastic bag issue. Benn is keeping up with many different bag ban campaigns as well as posting as much info as he can get his hands on about plastic bags. Many cities throughout the world have either taken steps or are considering measures to lessen the impact of plastic bags. Is anything happening in your neck of the woods? And if not, why not? And what can you do about it?

Here are a couple of tools you can use personally from Green Sangha, a group I belong to. The first flyer, Don’t Think About A Plastic Bag, is a PDF document that can be printed and given to anyone who has questions about the issue. And for those moments at the cash register when the clerk starts to bag your groceries in a plastic bag, you can kindly refuse the bag and hand him/her this smaller flyer, Why I Don’t Use Plastic Bags.

What other ideas do you have about decreasing the presence of plastic bags where you live?

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15 years ago

ksvnah64d —

Thanks for doing your part to keep Red Herring off the endangered species list. Pseudo-Scientists for hire lambasting one instance of misrepresented research DOES NOT negate the very real damage plastic bags do to sea birds and sea mammals. Don’t let one bad apple spoil the barrel of valid facts.

15 years ago

This is more or less OT but it’s about bags so I guess it’ll work. The other day on the news I saw that the yearly beach clean-up thing is coming up and they were saying that if you don’t actually want to go clean up the beaches a $10 donation would purchase so many plastic bags for others to use to put trash in. Going through my little old head ever since has been “why, oh why don’t they have the volunteers bring some of the horde of plastic bags everyone has at home and use them?”. I guess it looks more evirnomentally friendly to spend lord knows how much on new matching bags proclaiming what they are doing. Oh well.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
15 years ago

ksvnah64d —

Maybe the specific claim that plastic bags are killing 100,000 animals and a million seabirds every year are false, but that doesn’t mean that banning them isn’t a good thing — there’s plenty else that’s wrong with plastic bags…

15 years ago

Like most here, I cannot stand plastic bags, hate em, hate em. Now I see this on Fox News, Plastic Bags Evil, Think Again, Some Scientist Say dutifully stolen by myself and posted here:

My wife and I have bought over 20 canvas bags and if we run out shopping for groceries, we just buy another reusable bag instead of paper or the recyclable plastic bags now offered. My beef with all this is..

Why do the enviros continue to run their mouths off when their data simply isn’t factual. First is was the Ozone Layer, recently the Global Warming debate completely went South on enviros due to more emotion and politically or monetarily biased “scientific” research, now plastic bags haven’t been causing the beaching of hundreds of whales off the coastline.
It’s really frustrating for someone who lives pretty greenly and doesn’t believe in man made Global Warming but thinks taking care of the Earth is important as well as fiscally intelligent to have to endure crisis after crisis from enviros who are simply just too dang lazy to actually do appropriate research.
No wonder most people don’t believe.

500 or less
15 years ago

I hadn’t been to COSTCO in a while, but I recently went and only bought two items — no, they weren’t mattresses, or a fridge. I was already for my “Thanks, I don’t need a bag” routine at check out, but nope, they stacked those suckers up at the end of the checkout, and slapped the receipt on top. Have a nice day, indeed. Of course, I had forgotten to bring my own bag, but two good hands worked just fine.

15 years ago

It took me awhile to read all the linked stories…but I’m done.

Cooking every meal from scratch and not using plastic bags for grocery shopping has really cut down on our garbage and recycling output. But now I have another problem to contend with which is trash on the street which is usually plastic clogging up drains. The city is sucky when it comes to cleaning up poorer neighborhoods and the garbage truck winds up trashing the neighborhood on trash pickup days. So my husband and I go around picking up the trash left behind by inconsiderate people and stick them in plastic newspaper bags. I think alot of these items that I pick up from the street could be recycled…but I would have to wash it and clean it and increase my water bill – which I am not willing to do yet.

Hep Joan
15 years ago

I am gulity of using plastic bags as well. But life just seems impossible without them. Our city corporation tried banning them once but failed miserably. Nowadays, we have temporary plastica bans lasting 2-3 months, every now and then. However, I think it is always smart to reuse your plastic bags.
I keep them neatly folded under my matress. You can always carry one of them in your purse if it is well folded. I usually reduse it to about 25% of its size. So next time you go to the supermarket, you don’t have to use a new one. It can be plastic vs. plastic!

15 years ago

I live in a place where there are not many “plastic conscience” people. When I take my reuseable bags in the (big chain)grocery store, I usually get attitude from the cashier. It may be because I buy a week’s worth of groceries (for 4 people, that’s alot) and use almost a dozen cloth bags. But I figure: -15 plastic bags a week = -60 bags a month= -720 plastic bags a year. That’s worth putting up with a sigh or two! Besides, I have befriended a few nice cashiers and they always ask about my cloth bags. Spread the word!!

Gift Horse
15 years ago

Hey– cool site and great cause! We don’t use plastic bags either– haven’t for over 10 years. It is pretty much the easiest thing anyone can do to reduce waste and save trees/ oil. Just keep a bunch of fabric bags in the car/ office, etc, and you’re set!

Anyway, I hope you will check out our site

just another small effort to make things better… =)

15 years ago

This is an interesting and relevant blog.
Nice job:)

15 years ago

I bought my bags at Yes, I bought them. I researched and discovered these bags are seriously well thought out and if I was going to use them I was going to be good an happy about it. I LOve THEM (They are the ACME bags, BTW – Workhorse they are called and for good reason).

Fantastic work you do here – may I offer one suggestion however? Please convert Word documents to pdf (use it’s FREE). Not everyone uses Microsoft products. This is the easiest way to ensure cross-platform compatibility. Just a small request… Peace!

15 years ago

I have to share one more thing, in the “actions speak louder than words” category.
This summer I just quietly switched from using plastic bags to carrying my own canvas ones. My college aged daughter was living at home for the summer, and, accompanying me to the store one day saw me take the bags out of thetrunk to take inside with me. “Mom, you’re being such a good girl!” she commented.
Now, months later, I found out that on her return to campus she told her five housemates about mom’s green moves (including my advetures with vermicoposting!), and they all made a pact to eliminate plastic bags as much as possible. Isn’t that exciting? And all without me doing any mom-preaching!

15 years ago

Something I mentioned to Beth a while back that the rest of you might find interesting…

I used something Beth had said about keeping plastic bags out of the regular city recycling program to create a sign I put on our condo’s city-provided recycling bins. It said DON’T PUT PLASTIC BAGS IN RECYCLING and had a few sentences explaining why you shouldn’t (clogs the machines at the recycling plant, turns what is inside the bag into garbage that is thrown away, etc.)

The condo board went into a rage. I heard that people were saying “NOBODY is going to tell me what to do!” even though the no-plastic-bags rule is a published part of the city recycling program.

Upshot: The condo board spent $1500 in legal fees and sent me a legal notice (they didn’t simply call or email me before doing so) claiming my “no bags” signs were a violation of the condo by-laws! They also cited me for “breaking down cardboard boxes”!!! It had nothing to do with by-laws, only anger, and the recycling bins are city property, not that of the condo. They fined me $200 and threatened me with eviction.

Well, I could have hired a lawyer ($200/hour) to fight and surely win, but the lawyer would spend more than one hour on the case and what could I win except justice? So, I paid. I hated to do it but to fight would only be doing the same thing they did, spend lots on a lawyer for nothing. So by getting mad and putting a lawyer behind it, they took $50 from every unit owner in the building to pay the $1500 legal fee. That means the six board member combined spent $300 of their own money, to fine me $200.

Moral 1: Everything you have heard about condo boards is true!

Moral 2: The signs worked. I find very few plastic bags in the recycling bins now. But I paid $200 for that. Ouch.

I think Terrible Person has a better idea…keep a low profile and have great patience as he did at work regarding plastic bottles.

15 years ago

I love the suggestion of keeping a box in the trunk for groceries. Very practical! If it’s the right size, you could just put it in the shopping cart so you’ll have it at the checkout line. The brainstorming I see on this sight is awesome!

15 years ago

I kicked the plastic bag habit a while ago in lieu of reusable bags from places like Trader Joe’s and PCC. However, I find it discouraging that every time the issue of plastic bags comes up people immediately turn to the “ban them!” mantra. We don’t need to ban plastic bags, nor should we. People simply need to be educated, held responsible for their actions, and charged the true cost for the items they use.

Rather than banning plastic (or light bulbs, or SUVs) we need to make alternatives more attractive and pass along the true costs of the more wasteful items. When oil is at $300 per barrel, plastic packaging, incandescent lamps, and SUVs will all become much less attractive than the more sustainable alternatives.

Blue Collar Crunch
15 years ago

I’ve had some luck convincing family and friends just to leave a rubbermaid tub or big cardboard box in their trunk. With the prevlance of discount bag-it-yourself supermarkets in my area, it’s easy enough to skip that step and load your stuff directly from your cart into your trunk box. Nothing’s easier than getting your groceries into the house in one trip!

Rathje does some fascinating work. I was researching an entry for the blog I’m planning to start soon, and came across some of his team’s findings. Did you know that most landfills are so dry and stable that they’ve come across still-readable newspapers from the 70’s? Crazy.

15 years ago

Just Ducky – Do you sew? You can buy fabric made from bamboo, which has natural anti fungal properties. I have thought about adding them to my line of bags, but the material is very silky and difficult to work with on a large scale. But in your case, it might be the best bet.

just ducky
15 years ago

Tracey–First off, it’s awesome hearing about your success with the Chico Bags!

I have a question for you though…you mentioned a mildew problem with your other bags…was it from damp produce or condensation on refrigerated/frozen goods? I’m allergic to mold/mildew…literally. I don’t want to swear off all plastic bags and end up with a mildew problem which will then lead into more waste (via tissues, allergy pills, etc.)…can you tell me a little bit more about it?

Just Ducky

15 years ago

Just two days ago, as I was making the purchase of two pairs of socks in an outdoor equipment store, I stopped the the young girl who was clerking from putting them in a plastic bag with a brusque “I don’t need a bag.” No “please”, no explanation, no smile, because I was thinking about something else. She became so flustered, stammering “Oh, I’m sorry, I was just trying to serve you well.”
I felt so bad! It’s so important to treat people with respect and recognize that most clerks have been trained to help costomers a certain way. Our goal here is never to make anyone feel stupid or like they don’t care about the earth, but to set a positive example, and perhaps (gently) educate.
Thanks for all you do, Beth! You’re helping me to slowly but surely change habits in away that may help the earth be a better place for all the wonderful people we see about us every day.

15 years ago

After 22 years of reusable bag adamance, I myself have converted to Chico Bags! Why? Well, to be honest, my cotton mesh bags broke and tangled, and my cotton bags, probably from new pesticide laden cotton rather than organic or reused, were bulky and prone to mildew. I still have these bags, launder them, and bring them faithfully with clean containers and bags to my food coop to share. But I did not carry them around. (Once I made hideous finger woven bags from reused plastic, but that’s another story…)

Once my back pack was full, I succombed to the disposable plastic bag from time to time.

Then, at a music festival this past August, I collected hundreds of recyclables on the fair grounds and took them to the recycle store and chose my reward: two beautiful little light weight Chico Bags with caribener. My partner immediately loved carrying his purple bag around with him in his pocket. I loved attaching mine to my waist pouch. I loved the integral handle, and the fact that it was made in an ethical factory, was warranteed for a year, and recyclable at end of life (I checked these things out!)

So I ordered 500 Chico Bags to be made with my Anarres Natural Health logo and info on them as a promo item. I figured that if they changed something in my lifestyle – and I am often described as “hard core” – then they were worth the expense and impact. Now I use them as gifts for my friends and clients, as a freebie when people buy $50 or more of my stuff, and I sell them. Unlike the $.99 bags my grocer sells that are tote style and clearly made for people to pop into their car trunks, Chico bags are made for pedestrians and cyclists. So I’m a convert!

15 years ago

Just last month Bloomberg, NYC mayor, signed a bill forcing stores that offer plastic bags to take them back, free of charge, and be responsible for their recycling. A step in the right direction. I am confident a ban is coming our way soon. Whole Foods opened another store and Trader Joes are popping up, both of which have a personal ban on plastic bags. Almost all of the chain stores now offer reusable bags for as little as 1$ a bag. Some even offer raffles or discounts for people bringing in their own bags. It is becoming a little taboo to be seen with an armload of plastic dangling from your arm.

*I saw a woman take a bag for a pack of skittles last week. And she had pockets.

Jessica at Bwlchyrhyd
15 years ago

I had an insane conversation the other day with a man who wanted to put the two postcards I was buying in a bag.

Me: Oh, I don’t need a bag for those.

Him: But they’ll get damaged.

Me: Here, I’ll just stick them inside this book I’m reading; that will protect them.

Him: No really, you should have a bag to protect them.

Me: I am going to mail these postcards to people halfway around the world — they are not going to be in a bag then, so they will be just fine without a bag now!

At that point, he finally gave up…