“Bag It” is a feature-length, award-winning documentary produced and directed by Susan Beraza. Its narrator and star, Jeb Berrier, poses the question, “Where is ‘away’?” to which he responds, “There is no away.” Jeb is referring to plastic and to the fact that when this non-renewable and non-biodegradable substance is “thrown away,” it never does actually go “away.”
Jeb says that he is ‘not a tree hugger,’ yet throughout the film he examines his relationship with plastic. “Bag It” gives a nod to the famous scene from the 1967 movie, “The Graduate,” in which young Benjamin Braddock is taken aside and told that plastics will be the wave of the future. Jeb says that in hindsight the scene plays less like a joke than a prophecy.
The film informs the audience that plastic bags were introduced at groceries in 1977; from that point on, about 1 million bags per minute have been consumed worldwide and world consumption is at 500 billion per year. Jeb tells how plastic bags are being banned around the world from New Delhi to Bangladesh. In 2008, he says, China banned ultrathin plastic bags and an estimated 40 billion were eliminated the first year. Many European countries and cities have either banned or placed fees on plastic bags. A fee imposed by Ireland reduced consumption by 90 percent in the first year.
San Francisco was the first American city to ban plastic bags. Jared Blumenfeld, director, S.F. Department of the Environment, reported that the lobby of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) pushed through a law in California prohibiting a fee on carryout bags. Mr. Blumenfeld says in the two years since the ban, his office has received no complaints. Other California cities tried to follow San Francisco’s lead only to have lawsuits filed by the ACC.
On Earth Day 2008, Whole Foods Market became the first supermarket to eliminate plastic bags completely. Evanston shoppers will note that this is a countrywide policy. Whole Foods gives customers who use reusable bags the choice of donating 10 cents per bag to a local charity or earning a 10-cent credit.
Jeb ponders the necessity of ‘single-use disposable’ plastic bags made from materials that will last forever. To him it is a no-brainer – this is a product that can be eliminated in our society. But Americans have an ongoing love affair with disposable plastic products and Jeb names the big three: bags, bottles and cups. The film reports that 300 million disposable cups are used in the U.S. every day, including those paper cups used at a well-known coffee franchise that are lined with plastic.
When Jeb and his wife, Anne, learn they are expecting a baby, Jeb’s quest for information about plastic takes on a new urgency. Reusable cloth diapers, which will keep waste out of landfills, will be used in the Berrier home.
Dan Imhoff, author of “Paper or Plastic,” states that Americans are responsible for 800 pounds of packaging per person per year. With a colorful collage, Jeb shows the pervasiveness of plastic packaging pervasiveness in this country. Apples are bagged in plastic; paper cups, towels and napkins are packaged in plastic; even plastic items such as cups, toys and utensils are packed in plastic.
The absurdity of a multimillion dollar market for water sold in plastic bottles also comes under examination. By pouring cooking oil into an empty plastic bottle, Peter Gleick, director, Pacific Institute, shows how resource-intensive it is to package, market and transport bottled water. Jeb concludes that it would be nice if people thought of buying single-use bottled water as wasteful as driving a Hummer.
The numbers system (1 through 7) for plastics recycling, complete with the chasing arrows symbol, was devised by … drum roll … the plastics industry. Though the makers of “Bag It” continually made attempts to speak with chemical industry officials, no interviews were permitted.
Krispen Parke, a program director at the Wild Studies Institute, notes 80 percent of all marine debris originates from land-based sources. Six million pieces of litter enter our oceans every day and the majority of it is plastic, says Elizabeth Griffin, a senior scientist with Oceana. It is estimated that plastic kills more than 100,000 marine animals annually. Visuals of a seal trapped in a plastic sack and sea turtles chewing on plastic bags moved this reviewer to tears.
Jeb reports that Dr. Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester, explains how in the U.S. a chemical is “innocent” (safe) until proven “guilty” (unsafe). Chemical compounds such as bisphenol a (BPA) are found in common household items such as water bottles, food-storage containers and sports equipment. BPA is an endocrine disruptor and humans who ingest it are at risk for breast or prostate cancer, diabetes, miscarriage, obesity and autism.
The film wraps up with the birth of Jeb and Anne’s son, William. In a voiceover with a clever four-image rotating segment, Jeb lists actions the average person can take to reduce plastic, such as reduce use of single-use plastic products, avoid bottled water, choose products with less packaging and/or bring your own containers, buy less in general, and recycle. Avoid plastics #3, #6 and #7.
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