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Arts & Culture

Bag It

Colorado landfill
Courtesy of Suzan Beraza
Colorado landfill

Airs Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every five minutes, disposable bags that they throw away without much thought. But where is “away?” Where do the bags and other plastics end up, and at what cost to the environment, marine life and human health?

"Bag It" follows “everyman” Jeb Berrier as he navigates our plastic world. Jeb is not a radical environmentalist, but an average American who decides to take a closer look at our cultural love affair with plastics. Jeb’s journey in this documentary film starts with simple questions: Are plastic bags really necessary? What are plastic bags made from? What happens to plastic bags after they are discarded? What he learns quickly grows far beyond plastic bags.

What he discovers is shocking:


• The average American uses about 500 plastic bags each year, for an average of 12 minutes before they are discarded.

• Two million plastic bottles are consumed in the U.S. every five minutes, less then 25% are recycled.

• The average American contributes 800 pounds of packaging waste to landfills per year.

• 14 million pounds of trash end up in the ocean each year.

• The floating “island” of plastic and other debris swirling around in the North Pacific Gyre is more than twice the size of Texas.


• Plastic debris resembles plankton—fish food—and there is 40 times more plastic than plankton in some parts of the ocean. In this way plastic enters our food chain.

• It is estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and sea birds die each year from becoming entangled in or ingesting plastic debris.

• Plastic bags are made of fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas, which are non-renewable resources.

• The U.S. was once the largest exporter of oil in the world. Now, it is the largest importer.

• Ireland reduced its plastic bag use by 90% after instituting a fee on single-use disposable plastic bags.

• China banned “ultra thin” plastic bags in 2008. They reduced their use by 40 billion bags in the first year.

“A powerful and deceptively simple movie that is sure to change the way you look at everday objects. I didn’t expect a movie about plastic bags to change my life in such a deep and profound way. Gripping, funny, intelligent and sure to change your life.” -Louie Psihoyos, Director of "The Cove"

"Bag It" is on Facebook, and you can follow @BagItMovie on Twitter. Visit the "Bag It" blog for more information and resources.

When Jeb finds out he and his partner are expecting a child, his plastic odyssey becomes a truly personal one. How can they protect their baby from plastic’s pervasive health effects?

Jeb looks beyond plastic bags and discovers that virtually everything in modern society – from baby bottles, to sports equipment, to dental sealants, to personal care products – is made with plastic or contains potentially harmful chemical additives used in the plastic-making process.

Two of the most common of these additives, “endocrine disruptors” Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, show links to cancer, diabetes, autism, attention deficit disorder, obesity, infertility and even smaller penis size.

As adults, we make all kinds of choices of convenience: single-serve bottles, small units of food, household items, and bath and beauty products. These products are both made with and come packaged in plastic.

As a consequence of our modern day culture, we have become addicted to plastics, and they have quietly in- filtrated every aspect of our lives. Even our children (especially during in utero development) have unwittingly and alarmingly become our modern day lab rats. "Bag It" makes it clear that it is time for a paradigm shift.

Join Jeb as he meets with people who fought the American Chemistry Council lobby that spent more than a million dollars fighting the Seattle bag fee; as he interviews a man sailing the Pacific in a boat made of plastic to raise awareness about our ocean’s health; as he gets tested to determine the levels of chemicals in his own body; and as he welcomes his baby into the world, a world he hopes we can leave with a little less plastic and in a little better shape for the next generation.

Trailer: Bag It