Bag Wars | Plastic Bag Giants Sue Reusable Bag Entrepreneur for Loss of Sales (Environmental Community Outraged)Chico, California. – The ChicoBag Company, a reusable bag company, has announced it is the sole defendant in a lawsuit filed by Hilex Poly Company, LLC, Superbag Operating, LTD., and Advance Polybag, Inc.; three of the largest domestic manufacturers of disposable single-use plastic bags, on the grounds that ChicoBag has “irreparably harmed” their business.
The plaintiffs point to ChicoBag’s Learn The Facts Page which provides well sourced and widely accepted information regarding the consumption and environmental impacts of single-use plastics, accusing ChicoBag of false advertising and unfair competition. The plaintiffs specifically take issue with the following statements in their lawsuit:
- “A reusable bag needs only to be used eleven times to have a lower environmental impact than using eleven disposable bags.” Source: EPA
- “Only one percent of plastic bags are recycled.” Source: EPA
- “Somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.” Source: National Geographic
- “The world’s largest landfill can be found floating between Hawaii and San Francisco. Wind and sea currents carry marine debris from all over the world to what is now known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This ‘landfill’ is estimated to be twice the size of Texas and thousands of pounds of our discarded trash, mostly plastics.”Source: National Geographic
- “Each year hundreds of thousands of sea birds and marine life die from ingestible plastics mistaken for food.” Source: L.A. Times
Interestingly, ChicoBag is not the original publisher of the disputed statements. This information has been used in hundreds of publications, news stories and websites over many years. The ChicoBag Company is one of the few organizations that actually provides documented sources for the facts they use on their website.
ChicoBag was not aware the EPA, for example, had removed their article. Upon notice, ChicoBag immediately updated its website to reflect updated sources, and continues to promote what the industry itself admits - that we can reduce consumption, that many more bags could and should be recycled, and that plastic bags don't belong in our oceans, streams, hanging in trees, strewn along our highways, or in the food chain of animals. “Because of this, I don’t think this lawsuit is really about the facts, I believe it is simply a way for the industry to squash the competition and scare all of us into silence,” stated Andy Keller, inventor of ChicoBag and president of the company.
Keller is a leader in the movement to reduce single-use bag waste and is well known for his “Bag Monster®” character and environmentally themed blog, bagmonster.com. Each Bag Monster costume is decked out with 500 plastic bags, a walking ball of bags representing the average number of single-use bags an American uses annually. “The Bag Monster makes people laugh and realize how many bags they use. Most people are shocked by the Bag Monster and quickly realize they can use significantly less” says Keller. While the Bag Monster is not specifically mentioned in the lawsuit, its success may have made Keller a target of the industry.
The lawsuit against Keller’s company was filed in South Carolina, a state that has no anti-SLAPP laws. A SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
In an effort to understand how this lawsuit fits into the larger strategy of the plastics industry, Keller began investigating the history of industry’s litigation tactics, and uncovered a long and largely untold story of conflict between the public and the now ubiquitous plastic bag. In a recent blog post, Keller published his discovery, helping to put this most recent lawsuit into context.
Keller found that lawsuits and lobbyists are not new to the plastics industry. In fact, in 2007, these same plaintiffs effectively stopped the financially strapped City of Oakland from moving forward with their plan to phase out single-use plastic bags. As public awareness grew, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition was formed with membership including Hilex Poly. Thus far, the coalition has filed lawsuits against the communities of Marin County, Palo Alto, Manhattan Beach, and Los Angeles County.
In response to the industry tactics, Keller stated: “Plastic bag manufacturers and their ‘non-profit’ associations, along with their trade association, the American Chemistry Council, have spent millions of dollars trying to persuade voters and elected officials to vote against single-use bag legislation. They have even funded and promoted ‘scientific’ studies questioning the safety and efficacy of reusable bags, fueling sensational news stories across the country, presumably aimed to slow the growth of the reusable bag industry. Sadly, this lawsuit will cost millions and is a complete waste of money. If the plastics industry spent a fraction of the money they have spent on lawyers and lobbyists, actually addressing the legitimate environmental issues, perhaps they wouldn’t have to rely on desperate attacks on small business.”
Industry strategy aside, the lawsuit alleges that ChicoBag is responsible for lost sales and has caused irreparable harm to their business. While ChicoBag denies it is the cause, it may be true that these single-use bag companies are losing business. In the 2009 U.S. International Trade Commission’s Report, the shipments of U.S. produced bags decreased 2% (from 66.5 to 64.4%) between 2007 and 2008. However, shipments of single-use plastic bags from foreign countries into the U.S. increased by 2% (from 33.5 to 35.6%) during that same time period.
Mr. Keller went on to comment, “If these figures are accurate, (and the plastic bag manufacturers themselves depend on these numbers), then perhaps these bag manufacturers should look to foreign manufacturers and their own business practices, not ChicoBag, as the reasons for lower revenues.”
In 2004, ChicoBag founder Andy Keller took a trip to his local landfill after spending the day landscaping his backyard. He was horrified by how many single-use bags filled the scene. Plastic bags blanketed the landscape in a thin mix of white and beige plastic. Keller vowed to kick his single-use bag habit. Inspired, Andy dropped a few bucks on a secondhand sewing machine and began sewing what would ultimately become the first ChicoBag. Now, ChicoBag is an industry leader in the reusable bag movement and a leading innovator of compact reusable bags and packs that easily stuff into an integrated pouch.
For more information and updates on the lawsuit, visit http://www.suedbyplastic.com
Advocacy Programs: http://bagmonster.com
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If you'd like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Andy Keller, please call Sierra Norton at 530-342-4426 or e-mail Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org