Are You a Bag Lady?

Being an Island Jane sometimes means doing things that others think are a little bit kooky (quirky, if they’re being kind).  I have this thing about waste.  It really bothers me to waste anything, preferring the Feng Shui principle of ‘if it’s no longer beautiful or useful’ to get it out of my space and put it back into circulation, where it can be beautiful or useful to someone else.

I’m also really struck by the notion that when ‘throwing things away’ in a closed ecosystem (can you say “earth”?) there really is no “away” to throw them to. Every time every time you put something in the trash envision just opening a window and chucking it into your backyard. Anything that is not re-purposed back into something else (like aluminum cans into more cans, or glass into new glass, or paper into other paper, or fruit and veggie scraps back into the soil they grew from …) is going to pile up in YOUR backyard. When your backyard is the pristinely beautiful Florida Keys, home to wildlife refuges and one of only 14 U.S. marine sanctuaries, it seems abominable to clutter it up.

I was struck by Andy Keller’s story in 2004 of landscaping his backyard.  That effort necessitated a trip to the local landfill. What he saw there astounded him and radically changed his life: the predominant feature was single-use plastic bags. Afterwards, he began to see them everywhere on his drive home and around town.  Look around here, and likely you’ll see them, too – caught in trees and shrubs or in the gutter headed for a storm drain and into your local waterways, often out on the ocean caught in a weed line with other trash that doesn’t belong there.

Single-use plastic bags (SUPB’s), along with all sizes and shapes of other plastic bags in which innumerable other goods are packaged, are almost impossible to avoid.  SUPB’s are automatically filled and loaded into your shopping cart, wherever you go these days. Others are rarely reused – once the desired goods are removed they go into the trash to be thrown away. (Oh, right, there IS no away …).

Well Andy did something about it. The day of his landfill trip, he vowed to stop using single-use bags. He then purchased a second hand sewing machine and began making reusable bags inventing the first ChicoBag®, which he first sold on Earth Day 2005 at the Farmers Market in Chico, CA.  Knowing that on average 1 shopper uses 500 SUPB’s each year, he created a company with the mission to “help humanity kick the single-use bag habit.” Andy’s vow started a movement. See what’s happening worldwide here. Dozens of other cities, states/provinces and whole countries around the world have either banned single-use plastic bags entirely or created fee-for-use ordinances to provide incentives for people to bring their own reusable ones.

I’m still waiting for our home state of Florida to do something about the horrible case of plastic bag litter we have in such an environmentally sensitive place. That is, beyond a 2010 report on the subject required by the legislature – that the legislature has chosen to do nothing with. (See that report, and what they’re not doing here.)

While waiting, at New Year 2012 husband Robert and I also made a vow: not to take another plastic shopping bag from any store ever again … and we’ve faithfully kept it.  We are delighted to see friends and neighbors sporting their own reusable bags of all shapes and sizes (and others who have also figured out that if reusable bags are left in the car goodies can be wheeled out in the shopping cart and loaded into bags there – or directly into the trunk for the trip home).

As grass roots things roll here in the Keys, in June of this year we joined a handful of other like-minded locals intent on doing more. Led by local musician Ken Chopcinski, our discussions led to the creation of a campaign to eliminate single-use plastic bags and encourage employing reusables.  Modeled on movements successful in other parts of the U.S., the group created “Got Your Bags? – Florida Keys.”

The original group grew quickly into a coalition of residents, businesses, organizations, and local government, and a design for both retail and residential efforts that other Keys communities with an interest can also implement. Founding Sponsor, Save-A-Turtle donated $2500 to cover initial operating and outreach expenses and a supply of reusable bags for distribution. Plastic bags are a significant threat to sea turtles because they often mistake them for jellyfish.

Beginning in Big Pine Key – home to the Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge and gateway to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s protected Looe Key coral reef – by August, the campaign officially became a program sponsored by local nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education, allowing tax-exempt contributions to support it. Go online to for more information.
The Retail Campaign was launched November 1st. Already almost three dozen participating retailers (see who they are) have agreed to “Take the Pledge,” committing their best efforts to:

  • Ask at check out if you’ve “Got Your Bags?”
  • Place a “Got Your Bags?” sign on their front door and a stencil outside as a reminder for you
  • Encourage shoppers to use reusable bags
  • Reduce and discourage single-use plastic bag consumption, and
  • Provide shopping carts, baskets or other ways you can easily take your purchases to your vehicle

The Residential Campaign will begin with a series of events at which residents and visitors who promise to use them, will receive a free reusable bag, a car window decal in the form of the program’s “Got Your Bags?” logo, and a tips sheet with a series of reminders to use from the kitchen to store checkout counter and back. Individuals can “Take the Pledge” at the Out of the Blue Arts Fest on December 8, the Habitat for Humanity Music Festival on January 27, 2013 and the Superbowl Sunday Party on February 3, 2013.

While the “Got Your Bags?” campaign is focused in the Big Pine Key area, it is a community based program, designed to be easily replicated in other areas. Anyone interested in bringing a “Got Your Bags?” program to your island community, can contact

Dolly Garlo is a Florida Keys woman with a passion for the environment and a mission to make the world a better place. Trusted advisor to conscious entrepreneurs and professionals in business, her focus is on improving productivity and profitability through strategic marketing for greater visibility, mastering wealth and managing financial independence, career transition and exit-planning, lifestyle and personal legacy design to make meaningful contributions to the people, places and things you care most about. Founder and President of Thrive!!


  1. Great article Dolly! Our lives and livelihood depend on the environment, and each of us has a role to play in protecting it for the future.

  2. Thanks Karrie! I didn’t see your reply earlier, but now that the article has been re-released I got to see it. I so agree, and am glad you understand how inter-connected our lives are with the environment. It’s true everywhere, and one would think even easier to ‘get that’ here in the Keys, though I’m not sure everyone does. I appreciate knowing there is someone else out there to spread that message!
    Cheers, Dolly

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