This is such a great article that I thought to post it here. You may have heard of the Bag Monster or have seen it at environmental conferences or presentations (let me know if you want to see a sighting). This article, by Andy Keller, CEO of Chico Bag, was originally posted in Sept 2011. Here Mr. Keller explains what a Bag Monster is:
Plastic Bags are not all bad, but when used excessively and in large numbers they can turn into Bag Monsters. They start as innocent balls of bags, however they can grow into a menacing creatures that cause all kinds of trouble. A Bag Monster is your annual consumption of single-use disposable bags – estimated to conservatively be 500 bags. You may never realize the size of your Bag Monster unless you keep all of our single-use bags for an entire year. If you don’t – you may only see small Bag Monsters, the one under your sink, the one in the pantry, the one in your trash or recycle bin or the lone bag monsters that travel our highways, swim in our streams or wave proudly from our trees. Despite your best intentions, Bag Monsters are born to roam wild and can escape trash cans, recycle bins, a picnic and even the landfill. It is really important to tame your Bag Monster by tying each bag in a knot to lessen it’s ability to become windblown litter.
The Bag Monster is not just comprised of polyethylene retail carry-out grocery bags, which according to the United States International Trade Commission, in 2008 is 102 BILLION annually. If tied in a chain, this chain would circle the earth 776 times!* If divided equally among all Americans, would equal 332 bags per man, woman and child. That is a scary Bag Monster in its own right. Can you image your body covered in 332 bags on a hot Summer day?
BUT WAIT, with BAG MONSTER – THERE’S MORE | In addition to grocery bags, the Bag Monster is comprised of all types of excessive plastic bags, from produce bags for single items, to newspaper bags on a sunny day, to all those poly bags in which our electronics come packaged. The Bag Monster thrives on our excessive consumption of plastic bags. The more you feed it, the bigger Bag Monster gets!!
Bag Monster is very secretive and tricky and does not want us humans to realize the size of his empire, or his secret plans to take over the world and cover it in plastic. Some suspect that he has been influencing how the government reports bag consumption and recycling rates. We hear that grocery stores give out more produce bags than retail carry-out bags, however Bag Monster keeps that a big secret. However, not deterred, we were able to do some digging and found that our estimate of 500 bags per year is VERY conservative. It takes some work, but if you like numbers, read on and see what we found.
According to EPA Report: MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE IN THE UNITED STATES: 2009 FACTS AND FIGURES Table 7: Estimates in 2009, Bags, Sacks and Wraps equal 3.8 Million tons. Assuming a ton is 2,000 pounds, this equals 7.7 billion pounds. According to THE UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION hearing on March 16, 2010, DIERDRE MALONEY, Senior International Trade Advisor for White & Case LLP testified (on page 163 of the transcript), that due to the limitations of publicly available information, she necessarily converted the “product 3” (Large “t-shirt sack” style bag with (a) dimensions 15-18”) public price data from pounds into 1,000 bags, using a conversion rate of 12.5. She said, while this estimate is not exact, it nonetheless provides a reasonable method to estimate the portion of total domestic shipments of bags of “product 3”. According to testimony, “product 3” accounts for almost 70 percent of the total U.S. shipments of PRCBs (Polyethylene Retail Carrier Bags) over the period of interest 2007 and 2008.
The EPA data cited above is clearly not comprised exclusively of product 3, but rather a wide variety of bags and sacks from sandwich baggies to large bags. Product 3 can serve as a fair conversion ratio for bags in general since some bags will be smaller and some bags will be larger. It is important to note that while Bag Monsters love trash bags, trash bags are reported separately in the EPA data and are not included in this calculation. Just think about all the plastic bags that line hotel trash cans that are sent to the landfill each day. Now think about all the office buildings. Bag Monsters love when you line ALL your trash cans with plastic bags. However, we are going to ignore this aspect of Bag Monster’s plan for now.
The EPA data cited above also includes wraps and film. To estimate the percentage of bags and sacks, we looked at the most recently published data available in the MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE IN THE UNITED STATES: 2005 FACTS AND FIGURES report. The 2005 report was the last year the EPA provided data for bags and sacks separated from wraps. (We think Bag Monster had some influence here) Since this is the most recent data, we can use the ratio between bags & sacks and film as a fair estimate. In thousands of tons, wraps were reported to be 2,810 and bags and sacks were reported to be 4,450. Based on these numbers, we find the percentage of bags and sacks to be 37%.
Therefore, 7.7 Billion pounds of bags sacks and wraps * 37% = 2.85 Million pounds of bags and sacks divided by 12.5 the estimated average weight of 1000 bags * 1,000 bags = 227 Billion Bags divided by 307 Million people in the US (2009 Census Data) = 739 bags per person. This is a very large Bag Monster. We use the estimate of 500 because it is conservative and won’t anger the Bag Monster. If we say the Bag Monster is larger than he wants to be seen as, he may get really nasty!!
*Calculation is based on the following: 2008 bag consumption, according to U.S. International Trade Commission = 102,105,637,000. Earth’s Circumference = 131,480,184 feet, Average bag length = 1ft.