Watch it and 'Bag It'

Sometimes I like to wonder what our ancestors from just 100 years ago would think if they visited us now, in 2011.

I'm sure they'd think plastic bags were pretty weird.

"Think about it, why would you make something that you're going to use for a few minutes out of a material that's basically going to last forever, and you're just going to throw it away," says Jeb Berrier in the new documentary "Bag It," about our consumption of plastic. "What's up with that?"

Southern Oregon University's Ecological Center of the Siskiyous will show the film, which hasn't even been released nationally yet, at 6 p.m. Wednesday in room 319 of the university's Student Union. The free screening also will feature food from the Ashland Food Cooperative and drinks from Case Coffee.

The film follows Berrier as he begins to investigate plastic bag consumption, after his town, Telluride, Colo., challenges a nearby city to see which can reduce its plastic usage most.

"There's a dirty, little secret here, even if we won't admit it," Berrier says in the film. "Just because plastic is disposable doesn't mean it just goes away. After all, where is away? There is no away. It actually sticks around for a really long time."

I doubt our ancestors would see plastic bags as convenient at all, once they saw the number of bags floating alongside highways, shoved into landfills or choking fish.

Plastic bags may be convenient for humans in the short-term, but in the long-term they hurt almost every living thing on Earth.

I think our ancestors would wonder how we can value our short-term convenience over the long-term health of the entire planet. They'd be horrified by our heaping landfills. And they'd wonder what could have gone wrong in 1911 to lead to this.

Cellulose-based plastic was discovered in 1855, but plastic didn't become widely used in consumer goods until the 1920s, after the development of synthetic plastic.

Since then, plastic has been used to make just about everything.

"I started looking into it the fact that it is everywhere," Berrier says. "The way it doesn't go away. The way it pollutes. The way it flies and floats and drifts and clogs and entangles. The way it gets into things so big and so small. The way we can't escape it anymore. The way eventually we may not have any recourse. We'll all just simply have to stand up and say, 'Bag it.' "

According to the film, "an estimated 12 million barrels of oil is used annually to make the plastic bags that Americans consume."

In 2009, the U.S. used 102 billion plastic bags, according to the United States International Trade Commission.

Right now, state legislatures are discussing banning plastic bags throughout Oregon. California has discussed similar legislation and San Francisco has already banned the bags in the city limits.

Even if the state bans plastic bags, the law probably won't take effect for awhile. But we can stop using plastic bags today and start using reusable cloth bags.

We don't have to go back to using gunny sacks like our ancestors did in the 1900s. But, come to think of it, they do seem sort of cool.

"Bag It" will also air on National Public Television beginning April 18. For more information on the film, visit

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or For past columns see

Share This Story