Legal, Plastic Pollution
September 15 2011

Chico Bag Fends Off Lawsuit from Single-Use Bag Industry

by Angela Howe

The ChicoBag Company, makers of reusable bags, has announced that the lawsuit filed against it by Hilex Poly Company, LLC, Superbag Operating, LTD., and Advance Polybag, Inc. – three of the largest domestic manufacturers of disposable single-use plastic bags – has ended.

Chico was sued in January under the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act and the Lanham Act for "unfair competition" against the single-use bag makers, who claimed that the information on the ChicoBag site regarding the harms of single-use plastic was inaccurate.  ChicoBag and the Clean Seas Coalition worked together to substantiate all of the facts used to address the harms of single-use plastic bags.  Surfrider's annotated facts can be found on our Beachapedia RAP Facts page.

The lawsuit against ChicoBag was filed in South Carolina, which is a state that has no anti-SLAPP laws. A SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is one that is intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.  Arguably, that is the type of suit the plastics industry brought here.

Surfrider Foundation helped ChicoBag collect more than 25,000 petition signatures urging Hilex Poly to drop the case. The Care2 Petition effectively helped end the lawsuit and raised awareness through the thousand of signatures collected by Care2, Surfrider Foundation, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Heal the Bay, Earth Resource Foundation, Environmental Working Group, Green Cities California and a number of other grassroots organizations.

In the final settlement agreement, both Hilex Poly and ChicoBag have agreed to provisions including: 

• Both parties will provide citations and dates for all facts and statistics on any web page or advertising, excluding labels and hangtags.

• Hilex Poly agrees that to the extent permitted by customers and in the normal rotation of plate replacement, it will include a statement on its products: “Tie Bag in Knot Before Disposal”

• Hilex will include statements on a website that discuss ways to prevent windblown litter.

• ChicoBag will stop any countdown list for Hilex to dismiss the litigation

• ChicoBag had already made updates to its website in response to Hilex Poly’s early communications, and will keep these in place. (ChicoBag agrees not to cite any archived EPA websites, link to the full NOAA report if utilized in advertising, will inform visitors to that reusable bags should be washed when dirty and inform visitors to its Learn the Facts Page that plastic retail carryout bags are only a subset of plastic bags in ocean debris reports.)

When announcing the settlement, ChicoBag Founder Andy Keller stated: “What started as a bullying tactic, to silence a critic and stop ChicoBag from achieving our mission of helping humanity kick the single-use bag habit, has morphed into two wins for the environment: First, Hilex Poly can no longer inflate plastic bag recycling numbers by including non-bag wrap and plastic film. And they have also agreed to acknowledge that plastic bags can become windblown litter despite proper disposal and to better educate the public.”

This is another victory in the courts defending the cultural shift toward reusable bags.  In California, other cities are defending their single-use bag ban ordinances and finding success.  Stay tuned to the Coastal Blog for more updates in the plastics litigation saga.