Plastic Bag Industry Tries To Silence Critics

June 15, 2011

A federal lawsuit filed by three plastic bag manufacturers in South Carolina hopes to stifle criticism of their product by a small company billing itself as eco-friendly.

The move comes as the plastic bag industry is under increasing pressure from municipalities passing laws that limit use of throwaway plastic bags in grocery stores and elsewhere.

The New York Times' Felicity Barringer tells the story of Andy Keller, 38, who dresses up in bags as "Bag Monster" and promotes his reusable "ChicoBag."

"Product libel" laws in some states pose a major threat to journalists who want to report on whether a particular product may be poisoning consumers or putting them in danger. The plastic bag companies' lawsuit, instead, relies on the federal Lanham Act, which prohibits false advertising.

The plastic bag companies, Hilex Poly, Superbag Operating Ltd., and Advance Polybag, allege that ChicoBag claimed deceptively that its reusable bags were better for the environment than their throwaway bags. They also claim that ChicoBag understated EPA's estimate of how many plastic bags are actually recycled (conceding it's little more than 11%) — and overstated the size of the Pacific garbage patch.