What facts did Hilex Poly allege as being false and misleading and are their allegations true?
In Hilex Poly’s Cease and Desist Letter, the facts listed below were alleged to be false and misleading. To be clear, in the settlement agreement (see section 4), we did not agree to take down the below listed facts. Hilex Poly’s claim that ChicoBag “admitted to having engaged in sharing false and misleading documents about the environmental impacts of plastic bags for their own advancement in the marketplace” is unfounded and simply not true. To the contrary, ChicoBag has and will continue to work tirelessly to provide the public with the most accurate and current facts available. Below is each of the disputed facts with our response to Hilex Poly.
Do you think our facts false and misleading? You be the judge.
A reusable bag needs only to be used eleven (11) times to have a lower environmental impact than using (11) disposable bags.
ChicoBag was not forced to remove this fact from its website as part of its settlement agreement with Hilex Poly. Rather, ChicoBag agreed that it would cite a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study, rather than an archived EPA webpage for this type of “reuse” statistic. So what do the LCAs say? An LCA report cited by Hilex Poly, Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags: A Review of the Bags Available in 2006 (published in February 2011 by the UK Environment Agency), provides that “paper, LDPE, non-woven PP and cotton bags should be reused at least 3, 4, 11, and 131 times respectively to ensure that they have lower global warming potential than conventional HDPE carrier bags that are not reused.”
An LCA report conducted by Dr. Joe Greene, a well-respected scientist who has done extensive work for Hilex Poly, on behalf of ChicoBag concluded that as low as 9 uses of ChicoBag’s rePETe Original was needed to have a lower environmental impact as compared to disposable retail carrier bags.
Interestingly, in their “Truth About The ChicoBag Case” web page, Hilex Poly cites the above February 2011 LCA for the proposition that a “cloth bag needs to be used 393 times to have a lower environmental impact”. This statistic is a misquote and is actually referring not to a cloth bag similar to ChicoBag, but a cotton bag. Their 393 use statistic ignores the other reuse statistics (mentioned above) contained in the same report.
Finally, it is worth noting that (as of the date of this post), while the Hilex Poly website references the February 2011 UK Environment Agency LCA report on their website, the link provided is to the 2007 Boustead and Associates report found on the American Chemistry Council website. This type of minor and understandable mistake is the type of mistaken citation that Hilex Poly sued ChicoBag for, claiming it was “false and misleading.”
Only one (1) percent of plastic bags are recycled.
Hilex Poly admitted on their “Truth about plastic bags” website (which was removed after the settlement because it contained a number of factual mistakes which will be discussed in a future blog post), that this 1% statistic is not false, just dated. They claimed this 1% statistic to be 10 years old, however according to the US EPA annual Municipal Solid Waste Report (MSW) from 2005, less than 1% of plastic bags (HDPE, LDPE/LLDPE, PS, PVC) were recycled in the United States. Starting in 2006, the EPA started reporting a recycling rate that included other types of non-bag film and wraps. In EPA’s 2009 MSW report, the recycling rate for HDPE film (bags, sacks and wraps) was 6.1% and the recycling rate for LDPE/LLDPE film (bags, sacks and wraps) was 13.4%. While the statistic from 2005 is dated, we can’t find a most recent statistic available for plastic bag recycling that does not include non-bag film and wrap. We even asked the Hilex Poly and they still haven’t provided us with a number. In the meantime, as part of the settlement agreement, we agreed to add the statistics that include non-bag film and wraps. We believe the public deserves to know the true recycling rates for “bags only” and are urging the plastic bag industry to release an updated plastic bag recycling statistic that does not include non-bag plastic film and wrap.
Somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year.
This statistic, like the others are found on hundreds of reputable websites and publications. ChicoBag was not the first to report this number. However, perhaps we are the first to show you the math behind it. The estimate of worldwide consumption of plastic bags is based upon a careful analysis of various reports. According to the International Trade Commission, in 2009, in the United States, we use 102 billion plastic retail carryout bags alone. That does not include produce bags or other types of bags, just grocery bags. According to various other reports, “plastic bag” consumption in the European Union, China, Australia, Japan, Canada and India exceeds 787 billion annually. ChicoBag notes that unlike the ITC report which is limited to plastic retail carrier bags, the term “plastic bag” as reported by these various entities is a general term that in some cases, is not limited to retail carry out bags, but would include plastic bags such as produce bags. However, when we consider that these numbers do not take into account plastic bag consumption in a South America, Africa, Central America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and much of Asia, the number provided above appears to be a very conservative estimate based upon the most reliable public information.
If the plastic bag industry disagrees with the stated numbers, we urge them to make global production rates public. We believe the plastics industry does not want the true plastic bag consumption rates exposed, but hope they see that releasing such a number will end the debate on this topic. Below is the math behind the statistic:
EUROPEAN UNION: According to Europa.eu, the official website of the European Union there are approximately 502 million (rounded) people in the EU and the average European uses 500 bags per year. 502 million people x 500 bags = 251 billion (rounded) bags per year. CHINA: According to Worldwatch Institute, China uses approximately 3 billion bags per day 3,000,000,000 x 365 days per year = 109,500,000,000 bags per year. AUSTRALIA: According to Australia Department of the Environment and Water Resources annual report in 2006, Australia uses 3.9 billion bags per year. JAPAN: According to Japan for Sustainability Public Government website, Japan uses 30 billion per year. CANADA: According to the Canadian Parliament Government website, Canada uses 2.5 billion bags per year. INDIA: According to Copper Wiki, India produces 2 million tons of plastic bags and the per capita consumption is 2kg (2kg = 4.4 lbs.) There are approximately 76 plastic bags per pound according to the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality . 4.4 lbs x 76 bags = 334 bags per person, per year. Acccording to the World Bank, the Population of India is 1.17 billion. 334 bags x 1,17 billion = 391 billion (rounded) bags per year. USA: According to the 2009 International Trade Commission Report – The U.S consumption of plastic bags is 102 billion bags per year. TOTAL (Rounded): Approximately One Trillion Bags per year.
The world’s largest landfill can be found floating between Hawaii and San Francisco and this landfill is estimated to be twice the size of Texas and thousands of pounds of our discarded trash, mostly plastics.
Hilex claims this statement is false and misleading because it was not properly sourced. ChicoBag cited an article from the Los Angeles Times that was part of a five part series called “Altered Oceans.” The writer won a Pullitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for this series. Hilex claimed that the statement was “misleading” because ChicoBag “implied” that the gyre was comprised of “mostly plastic bags.” This allegation is unfounded. ChicoBag is confident that its customers can read the plain language in the statement and understand its meaning – that plastic pollution, in its various forms, is contaminating our world’s oceans.
Andy Keller, president of ChicoBag traveled in April 2011 on a two week voyage, to one of the 5 oceanic gyres to judge for himself. He found the term “landfill” or “island” which is used in hundreds of publications, actually understates the environmental issue because it gives the perception that it can actually be cleaned up. When plastics reach the gyres, however, they have generally degraded into micro-plastics, a plastic confetti soup that is impossible to clean up without doing more harm to marine life than good. We encourage everyone concerned about the effects of plastic pollution on the world’s marine environment to learn more about this issue.
Meanwhile, the plastic bag industry continues to aggressively underestimate the impacts their products have on the environment. In general, they claim the polyethylene film confetti that is found in the gyres cannot be identified as plastic bags and there is “Missing Evidence”. Perhaps they have never seen a dense surving knot (pictured above), the remains of a oceanic plastic bag that has loss everything but the knot tied in its top. We think the plastics industry should “Own the Problem”, acknowledging the ability of a plastic bag to become windblown litter in our rivers, beaches, roads, and communities, despite proper disposal. We encourage Hilex and others to take steps to reduce the causes of wind-blown litter. The Hilex vs ChicoBag settlement requires Hilex Poly to address this issue on their website, as well as printing a message on their bags informing users to “tie bag in knot before disposal” to prevent windblown litter. While not a solution to the litter problem, a bag tied in a knot has a reduced likelihood to take flight, becoming windblown litter. See our blog post on wind-blown litter and the settlement!
Each year hundreds of thousands of sea birds and marine life die from ingestable plastics mistaken for food.
Again, Hilex claims this statement is false and misleading. ChicoBag cited the “Altered Oceans” article from the Los Angeles Times which won a Pulitzer Prize and appeared under the general column titled “Did you know?” on the ChicoBag Learn the Facts page in support of this statement. ChicoBag stands by its statement. Moreover, we will soon make public a report showing that ChicoBag’s statements regarding the effects of plastic pollution on marine life actually underestimate the problem. Plastic pollution in our oceans is actually worse than described by ChicoBag. We will provide a link to the report when published.