Suzan Beraza’s Bag It is an affable activist film that does its job: since watching it, I have been conscious of my own use of plastics, paying attention to reducing, reusing and recycling. Without being preachy, the film’s everyman, Jeb Berrier, sets out to discover what’s behind the plastic bag, and along the way shows us the world’s dangerous love affair with disposables. Over 100 billion one-use plastic bags in 2010 alone, plus 300 million paper coffee cups lined with plastic, and product packaging from the United States alone clog storm drains and stuff landfills. They are made to be thrown away. But where is away?

Unfortunately “away” means the floating “island” of plastic and other debris swirling around in the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. “Away” means leeching into our ground water. And “away” means cycling back into our bodies. Jeb takes us around the world to look at plastic recycling in Hamburg, Germany, and a plastic strewn beach in Hawaii, with stops with visiting experts and a recycling plant here in the U.S. where we learn the shockingly ugly truths about recycling.

Jeb shows us bottled water’s wastefulness, and takes us to San Francisco to discuss the city’s plastic bag ban, followed on to Seattle to see how the plastics lobby, funded by the American Chemical Council (and front groups with ridiculous names like Save the Plastic bag), defeat an anti-plastic bag ballot measure. Despite numerous attempts by Jeb to hear the plastics industry’s side, none of the pro-plastics spokespeople would agree to go on film, though their effects are chillingly felt. The ACC and related organizations lobbied in California getting legislation passed which bans charging a fee for plastic bags–in Ireland fee-for-bags cut the use of bags 90% in the first year it in effect. Other countries like Bhutan and China (where ironically much of our recyclable waste is shipped) have banned the one-use bag.

When Jeb and his partner Ann discover she’s pregnant, Jeb really gears up, looking at toxins associated with plastics, mainly phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), and their disturbing side effects – including increased estrogen and associated cancers and chronic illnesses. He does a one week experiment, using everyday products: canned food, food that is to be microwaved in its plastic containers, drinks packaged in plastic bottles, and grooming products with with “fragrance,” an industry term for phthaltes; his levels of phthalate increased 11x. The good news, it’s reversible. Equally good news: because of consumer outcries, in 2009 six types of phthalates were banned from children’s toys, WalMart and Toys “R” Us removed baby products containing phthalates from shelves, and manufacturers stopped making baby bottles with BPA.

The film’s message is really clear: we can each make a difference by doing any or all of these:

  • Cutting back on single-use disposable bags
  • Avoiding bottled bottle
  • Bringing our own containers
  • Consuming less and buying used
  • Avoiding certain so-called “recyclable” plastics (numbers 3, 6 and 7)

It takes a little forethought to bring bags to the market, to have jars and bottles ready for refill at Bulk Bin; to bring one’s own cup to the local cafe; to hydrate with home filtered water; to not buy foodstuff and other items that are heavily packaged. If each of us does this even half the time, it will make a huge difference. So as Jeb suggests, bag it (“it” being the disposable lifestyle) and instead embrace a more enduring way of living which features healthier, more environmentally friendly practices to benefit our lives, our cultures, and our communities, and ultimately the future of our species and our planet.

Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.