Andy Keller is a mission-based entrepreneur who founded ChicoBag. The California company is a maker of reusable grocery bags and champion of refusing single-use disposable plastic bags. ECOlunchbox interviewed Andy to learn more about how his love for the environment began and why he is working so hard to protect it.
What was the seed of your idea to make reusable bags and start your company, ChicoBag?
I drove to my local landfill after spending the day landscaping my backyard. It was 2004 and I was shocked and horrified by how many single-use bags blanketed the landscape in a thin mix of white and beige plastic. That was the beginning of starting to notice plastic bags everywhere; along the side of the road, caught in trees and on fences and blowing in the streets like urban tumbleweeds. I vowed to stop using single-use, plastic bags for good. Then, I bought a second-hand sewing machine and began sewing what would become the first ChicoBag brand reusable bag.
When did thinking about the environment begin and how did it evolve into your business?
I remember crying as a 5-year-old, being scared that we were going to run out of water. My mom reassured me that we were not going to run out of water. At that time, I didn't understand the circular nature of the water cycle. However, today with the world population surpassing 7 billion on its way to 8 billion and with the uncertainty that climate change brings, my fear is back.
What were some big challenges you overcame? A success that made you want to keep going?
In 2011 - ChicoBag became the target of the single-use plastic bag industry
. This was the scariest moment of my life. I thought about giving in to the plastics industry and stopping advocating for a cleaner planet. But after visiting the south pacific subtropical gyre and seeing first hand what single-use plastics are doing the environment, I could not take the easy way out - I had to fight.
Many great ideas can start small and get bigger and better over time! Pictured here is Andy Keller, founder of ChicoBag, when he was about 9 years old wrapped in a toilet paper costume. At right, Keller is pictured recently in the Bag Monster costume he uses to educate about the perils of throw-away plastic bags.
What would you like to see in your future/the future of your business?
Our mission is to help humanity bag the single-use habit. We are in our 12th year and are making progress. We are creating an awareness and starting positive conversations that connect people to solutions that help solve the single-use waste problem. Empowering you and the organizations you are a part of to take an active role to reduce waste by using high quality, long lasting reusable products. Let's share in the responsibility and achievement of refusing 34 billion single-use items by the year 2022.
So far, since our start, we have helped humanity refuse the use of an estimated 16.7 Billion single-use items. I hope that in the near future - we help every person become aware of the perils of single-use plastics.
When did you start to think about the environmental impact you were making and what did you do to be more "green?"
This is a difficult question since I have taken small steps knowingly and unknowingly throughout my life. My first memories of taking small steps started while camping with my family. We always would leave the campground better than we found it. We would pick up all the micro-trash and leave it nice for the next person. My parents taught me that this helped make the experience for the next person better. It was my first lesson in paying it forward. Unknowingly, I also used to collect newspapers and cans from the neighbors and recycle them for money. It was how I made money. As a kid, I assumed everyone did what I did and it wasn't until later that I realized that I was doing something that many others at that time did not do often.
What is your advice to people who are just beginning to think "green?"
My advice to the green beginner is to be aware and take small steps. You don't have to go cold turkey. If you can cut your use of single-use plastics in any way you are making a difference. Using reusable bags sometimes and single-use for the rest of the time is still good progress. Using a reusable product once in a while is better than not using one at all.