by Paula Alvarado, Buenos Aires on 04.12.11 on Treehugger.com
Andrew Keller, founder of ChicoBag, on board at the Sea Dragon with 5 Gyres. Photo credit: Paula Alvarado
As awareness about plastic pollution around the world continues to grow, the plastic industry has been busy trying to save its business. This is true for bottled water manufacturers, but especially true for plastic bag companies, which haven't taken the anti single-use plastic movement easily and have been taking all kinds of actions to prevent people from stopping to use their products.
On the PR side, they've launched campaigns like Save The Plastic Bag, which are flooding websites and media with sometimes misleading information: namely, that reusable bags may contain germs that could get your family sick if you don't wash them (duh: every piece of cloth can contain germs if you don't wash it, including tea towels, garments, cleaning cloths, etc.).
On the legal side, they've sued cities that have banned plastic bags like Oakland, CA, Fairfield, CA, and San Jose, CA, arguing that the decisions were taken without proper environmental impact studies and asking for bans to be taken down.
Unsatisfied with these practices, this business group seems to be taking the next step: filing suits against entrepreneurs that are standing up against single-use plastics. Such is the case of a recent lawsuit that three major plastic bag producers have filed against ChicoBag Company, a pioneering company in the reusable bag movement.
The names in question are Hilex Poly Company, Superbag Operating and Advance Polybag, who are claiming that ChicoBag has infringed in 'False and Misleading Advertisement', 'Violation Of The Latham Act', and 'Violation of The Unfair Trade Practices Act' for some information included on its website.
The facts in dispute include a quote supposedly taken from the EPA website claiming that "Reusable bags need only to be used eleven times to have a lower environmental impact than using eleven disposable bags", some clerical errors due to website formatting (references pointed to the wrong facts), and some statements related to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Now of course every business owner has the right to ask for explanations when someone is talking trash about one's work or product, and it might be true that a lot of misinformation about plastics is wrongly portrayed and deserves some rectification. But ChicoBag claims that it corrected the information that was wrong in its website within 72 hours of receiving notification of it. Nevertheless, the plastic companies continued with the suit.
It seems at the very least curious that companies the size of these are taking it against a medium-sized business like ChicoBag, a business run by an entrepreneur that has been prominently active and vocal, standing up against wasteful single-use plastics.
The plastic bag monster, also making an appearance on the trip. Photo credit: Paula Alvarado
ChicoBag's founder, Andrew Keller, has been running his business like a non-profit, doing all sorts of actions to raise awareness about the over-use of plastic bags. In the summer of 2010, he toured the US in a 'plastic bag monster' suit raising awareness against the abuse of these and receiving a fair amount of attention in the media. Previously, he had testified before the State of California in support the ban of plastic bags and was a speaker at the TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch event.
Again: plastic companies have the right to defend their product all they want, and it's up to consumers to decide what they want to do. But using their greater economic resources to shut the mouth of an environmentally conscious entrepreneur seems more like a case of bullying than of defending fair commerce practices.
The entrepreneur during one of his watches on the boat. Photo credit: Paula Alvarado
Keller (above) is now participating in the South Pacific 5 Gyres expedition that TreeHugger was invited to join, where he's trying to find out more about plastic marine pollution first-hand.
"I've always tried to convey the most accurate information about single use plastics but it's hard to know what facts or articles are the most up to date and accurate. To compound the issue, the plastics industry has its own industry-funded facts and information which makes the topic extremely confusing to sort through. So I wanted to come here and see for myself first-hand, what's the impact of plastics on our ocean," he said about his reasons to join the voyage.
Asked about the lawsuit, he preferred not to make statements until the process continues. However, we found that environmental organizations against plastic pollution -- including 5 Gyres -- are aware of the legal action and are planning to offer support. We'll keep you posted about how this issue unfolds.
UPDATE: ChicoBag has put up a website to inform people about the lawsuit, you can check it out at www.SuedByPlastic.com.