Big Plastic vs. the Bag Monster
The dude at right is Andy Keller, inventor of the ChicoBag, a small, compressible alternative to the plastic shopping bag. He appears here in his " Bag Monster" persona, in which he wears 500 single-use plastic bags--the average number used by the average American.
Or so he says! Keller's anti-plastic bag statements have now got him into big trouble with Big Plastic. Keller is being sued by Hilex Poly Company, LLC, Superbag Operating, LTD., and Advance Polybag, Inc., three of the largest plastic-bag manufacturers in the country. They claim that Keller's statements about their products have caused them "irreparable injury," and that statements that appeared on his Web site, sourced to the EPA but subsequently removed from the EPA's Web site, were false and misleading and constituted an illegal attempt to appropriate their customers.
"I don’t think this lawsuit is really about the facts," says Keller. "I believe it is simply a way for the industry to squash the competition and scare all of us into silence.”
He notes that the threat of legal action by the same plaintiffs scared off the city of Oakland, California, from banning single-use plastic bags, and that the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, whose members include Hilex Poly, has also filed suit against would-be bag-banning California communities of Marin County, Palo Alto, and Manhattan Beach. The latter town has pursued the case all the way to the California Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on it this summer.
Despite the fact that ChicoBag is also located in the California town of Chico, Big Plastic chose to file its lawsuit in South Carolina, a state that doesn't ban SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuit against public participation). Had the suit been filed in California, says Jennie Romer, an attorney who founded plasticbaglaws.org, the industry would have been forced to show that they had a probability of prevailing, and would have been forced to pay attorney's fees if they did not. In South Carolina, she says, Keller can look forward to a protracted court case. The suit, she says, "is definitely designed to get ChicoBag to stop talking about plastic bags." It's an indication, she says, of the seriousness with which the plastic industry is taking environmentalists' attempts to ban disposable bags: "It's a tipping point issue for them."