Before His "March on City Hall" Tomorrow, a Brief Interview with "The Bag Monster"

Categories: Events, News
bagmonsterinaustincityhall.jpg
Twitpic: rhackleman
Andy Keller took his plastic bags to the Austin City Council chambers this afternoon.
Andy Keller -- The Bag Monster, c'mon -- called this morning. Wanted to talk about his visit to Dallas tomorrow, part of his nationwide tour to get people off the single-use plastic bag. I asked him, straight off: "So, where exactly are you staging this happening?" He'll be wearing 500 plastic bags. He'll be standing in a pile of 45,000 plastic bags.

At the time, he said, the plan was to go to Flag Pole Hill. But he worried: "That's not a high-traffic area, as I understand it." Well, sure it is -- like, on a breezy, 72-degree Saturday afternoon in October. At which point he said, well, he's trying to make something else happen -- like, fingers crossed, Dallas Farmers Market downtown.

Bingo: A few minutes ago his people sent word: "Andy Keller, a.k.a. 'The Bag Monster,' will be at the Dallas Farmers Market, 1010 S. Pearl Expressway, from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. tomorrow."

On the other side, a few Q's for the Bag Monster, who has some A's.

Update at 5:47 p.m.: Wes McMahon, who works with Keller in California, called Unfair Park moments ago to say there's been yet another change of plan: "They will be marching on City Hall at 11:30 a.m. There should be 20-plus people dressed up as 'bag monsters.' It should be excellent -- and it should be a lot more fun than having one guy at Dallas Farmers Market."

Whenever this issue comes up, banning single-use plastic bags, there are just as many folks against it ...

It does hit a nerve with some people, because they won't want their freedom impeded upo.n They say they recycle them, they use them and don't litter, so what's the problem. Or: 'I need them for trash-can liners.' So there's a lot of emotion around the topic.

The press release says you're traveling to "cities considering plastic bag legislation." But that ship appeared to have sailed in Dallas about two years ago when the council briefly considered then dropped altogether the idea of banning the bag or taxing their use.

Well, we're gonna be heading up to Tulsa, and Dallas had considered a restriction on bags. But I would argue no one has ever seen 45,000 plastic bags in one place, which is what the installation consists of -- and the amount of bags one person uses in a lifetime. The Bag Monster, which is 500 bags, is what people use in a year. Most people, when  they get a cache of plastic bags that fill up a pantry, they throw them out or recycle them and never collect enough to show what they use in a year. It's nice to show that.

And it's interesting; I get one of two reactions: "Oh, my God, I never knew I used so many bags -- it's so wasteful." And typically they'll make some commitment like, "I need to use less." The other reaction is kind of stark honesty: "I use a lot more than that. They're lookin' at a pile of 45,000 bags and me in 500 bags and they say that, and it's honest and accurate. What I am showing is a very conservative average."

What got you on this path of traveling the country in the hopes of outlawing the plastic bag?

My whole thing started about six years ago when I was at my local landfill in Chico, California. What was in front of me what what my town of 100,000 threw out in one day. What I noticed was most of the stuff in there was recyclable or reusable. Visually what stood out was the plastic bags -- they're everywhere. I was a plastic-bag user up to that point and I decided to kick the habit, and I looked for some meaning in my life, and I decided to help humanity kick their single-use bag habit, and I've been doing it ever since. ...

That's what this tour is about -- getting out in the community and talking about what our consumption looks like. Just looking at plastic bags is a litmus test, a key indicator of all the waste in our lives. It's the poster child of unnecessary waste. Once you look at your bag consumption, maybe you look at how many single-use water bottles you use. Because everything goes away -- you put it in your curb, and it disappears. But in reality plastic bags last 500 to 1,000 years. When you think of one American's impact, you're using 45,000 bags that'll last for 30 generations.

Then why not go to City Hall? Why not take the issue to the policymakers directly in these cities you're visiting? After all, not only is California considering a ban, but so too Portland and Austin, where the mayors proposed the legislation. As I recall when Dallas considered it two years ago, the city's Office of Environmental Quality was all for it -- pushed for it, even. But the makers of the bags and the American Chemistry Council came down hard against it.


The American Chemistry Council spends millions of dollars defending the plastic bags and bag monsters to continue what they're doing. In Seattle they spent $1.2 million. In Sacramento they're buying full-page ads and running advertisements, basically creating a lot of fear that banning plastic bags will hurt our schools, will kill jobs in our economy. They make very outlandish claims that the world will end if the state bans plastic bags. But, yes, I try to engage with local leaders as much as possible -- environmental leaders, elected officials.

And getting permission to set up 45,000 plastic bags on city property is a lot trickier than we anticipated. People think it's a political statement. I tend not to think so. It's just raising awareness of what the reality is. But it's difficult to get a permit, which is one reason why we don't set up in more obvious places like City Hall.


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