|Photo: Van Tucker|
Eight years ago Andy Keller was an unfulfilled software salesman living in Chico, California. After doing some landscaping in his yard, he visited his local landfill, where the thousands of plastic bags hanging off barbed wire and blowing across mounds of trash changed the course of his life. "The landfill struck me at this core level," Keller says. "It was disgusting
." That same day, he bought a sewing machine and made his first colorful, washable ChicoBag, which folded into a convenient pocket-size pouch. "The reusable totes I'd seen were grungy, bulky, and stained with blueberries," he explains. He began selling his more stylish versions—made from materials like recycled plastic—at farmers' markets and eventually in stores across North America, and now ships via his Web site to more than 80 countries.
But Keller didn't stop there. Determined to halt plastic bag gluttony, which he says imperils about 267 marine species, he created an alter ego, "Bag Monster." Dressed in 500 flimsy single-use plastic bags—the number the average American discards each year (he affixes them to a jumpsuit with Velcro)—Keller protests lax environmental policies at city halls, festivals, and political events. "I usually get one of two responses," he says. "It's either, 'Oh my God, I had no idea I was using that many plastic bags' or 'Oh honey, I use more plastic bags than that!'"