Environment: A truce in the disposable bag wars?

Lawsuit settled, both sides claim victory, but environmental issues remain

A plastic bag caught in the wind ends up in an aspen grove. PHOTO BY JENNEY COBERLY.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — While some local governments have been wrestling with ways to control single-use plastic bags, the battle has also been waged on a national front, most recently in a lawsuit filed by plastic bag producers against the ChicoBag Company, a California-based manufacturer of reusable bags.

Three companies — Hilex Poly Company, Superbag Operating, and Advance Polybag, Inc. — sued ChicoBag over statements on the company’s website, which cited widely accepted statistics on the impacts of plastic bags. The same three companies have also sued local jurisdictions over bag bans and fees. They claimed that the statements on ChicoBag’s website were false and misleading, and had resulted in “irreparable harm” to their companies.

The suit was dropped last week when both sides agreed to make some changes in the way they present information about the impacts of plastic bags. The agreement resulted in an undisclosed settlement payment to Hilex Poly.

The lawsuit against ChicoBag 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.

ChicoBag said the settlement is a victory for plastic bag foes and environmentally conscious consumers, as the terms of the settlement will likely help the public be better informed about the real impacts of single-use plastic bags.

“What started as a bullying tactic, to silence a critic and stop ChicoBag from achieving our mission of helping humanity kick the single-use bag habit, has morphed into two wins for the environment: First, Hilex Poly can no longer inflate plastic bag recycling numbers by including non-bag wrap and plastic film. And they have also agreed to acknowledge that plastic bags can become wind-blown litter despite proper disposal and to better educate the public,” ChicoBag founder Andy Keller said in a prepared statement.

“Ultimately, I hope this settlement will encourage Hilex Poly and the rest of the plastic bag industry to refrain from filing any future frivolous lawsuits, stop attacking reusable bags, and instead invest their dollars into reducing unnecessary single-use bag consumption and litter, while developing solutions to meet the growing consumer demand for more sustainable products,” he said.

“This settlement is a win for consumers,” said Hilex Poly Vice President of Sustainability, Mark Daniels. “The use of false and misleading statements is injurious to the marketplace, and this settlement ensures that facts are accurate. We welcome a vigorous and honest debate about the use of plastic carryout bags. While all parties are entitled to their own opinions, Hilex Poly believes that everyone should be careful to be accurate in the facts presented. Hilex Poly remains committed to partnering with all stakeholders, including ChicoBag, to promote the EPA’s recommendations to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bags.”

One of the key issues at stake in the legal battle was the true recycling rate for disposable bags. Based on  a 2005 report from the EPA, ChicoBag claimed that only 1 percent of all disposable plastic bags are recycled, while Hilex Poly claims a recycling rate of 12 percent.

According to ChicoBag, the higher figure includes single-use plastic bags along with other sacks, film and plastic wrap used on pallets. As part of the settlement Hilex Poly agreed to properly cite recycling statistics, which will be much less misleading to the public. Hilex Poly also acknowledged the fact that single-use bags can become wind-blown litter despite proper disposal by agreeing to address this issue on their website, as well as printing a message on their bags informing users to tie the bag in a knot after use to prevent windblown litter.

Regardless of the exact figure, disposable plastic bags and other plastic debris have been proven to have a huge impact on marine wildlife. Some reports suggest that up to 100,000 marine mammals die from entanglement and other impacts from plastic products.

In the settlement agreement, both Hilex Poly and ChicoBag have agreed to provisions including:
•    Both parties will provide citations and dates for all facts and statistics on any web page or advertising, excluding labels and hangtags.
•    Hilex Poly agrees that to the extent permitted by customers and in the normal rotation of plate replacement, it will include a statement on its products: “Tie Bag in Knot Before Disposal”.
•    Hilex will include statements on a website that discuss ways to prevent windblown litter.
•    ChicoBag will stop any countdown list for Hilex to dismiss the litigation.
•    ChicoBag had already made updates to its website in response to Hilex Poly’s early communications, and will keep these in place. {ChicoBag agrees not to site any archived EPA websites, link to the full NOAA report if utilized in advertising, will inform visitors to chicobag.com that reusable bags should be washed when dirty, and will inform visitors to its Learn the Facts page that plastic retail carryout bags are only a subset of plastic bags in ocean debris reports.}

ChicoBag congratulates Hilex Poly for boldly accepting their corporate responsibility to properly inform the public about plastic bag recycling rates, and for breaking step with the plastic bag industry with a new commitment to messages that will hopefully result in combating wind-blown litter.


3 thoughts on “Environment: A truce in the disposable bag wars?

  1. Perhaps if every industrial produced item had a stipulation in their ability to bring said item to market, that they were responsible for the recycling of said item after use, then we might not be faced with having to deal with the profuse litter upon the landscape! Perhaps there would be second thoughts as to the wisdom on bringing the myriad items that today we face in the world.

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