Will Biodegradable Plastic Bags Melt in Trees? San Francisco recently approved a ban on non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags. While stores adjust to the change, it's unclear how it will affect people whose job it is to snag plastic bags caught in trees and other high places. Melissa Block talks with Bill McClelland, president of Bag Snaggers, Inc.
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Will Biodegradable Plastic Bags Melt in Trees?

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Will Biodegradable Plastic Bags Melt in Trees?

Will Biodegradable Plastic Bags Melt in Trees?

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The news this week that San Francisco has banned the plastic grocery bags for environmental reasons got me thinking back to what was possibly the most fun I had when I was a reporter in New York. Ten years ago, I went on a bag-snagging expedition around Manhattan with three men who were obsessed with plucking plastic bags out of trees. In fact, the day I met them, they received the official patent for the bag-snagging device they invented.

(Soundbite of device clanking)

BLOCK: It's a series of interlocking carbon graphite poles with a grappling hook on the end. The snaggers could reach about 70 feet up. So off we went back in 1997, me, the writer Ian Frazier, and his two buddies, brothers Tim and Bill McClelland.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. IAN FRAZIER (Author): This is tree high bagging.

Mr. TIM MCCLELLAND: Yeah, this is some high bagging.

BLOCK: Everywhere, plastic bags flap and flutter tantalizingly high up in the branches. These are nine polars, easy.

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: Okay, clear the way, I'm going to try and walk this over with...

BLOCK: Tim braces the 70-foot long pole against his hip. It bends and sways in the air like a noodle.

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: It's being a bum. You're a bum.

BLOCK: The bag is resisting. At first it's snagged, then it's not. Then, to their dismay, it escapes and flies away to another branch.

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: Now, this is a bad bag.

Mr. BILL MCCLELLAND (President, Bag Snaggers Incorporated): Sometimes we feel like the bags talk to us.

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: You can really tell someone when you get them. (Unintelligible) we got.

BLOCK: And this bag won't be gotten. It takes off into the blue.

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: Oh, it's on the move.

Mr. FRAZIER: There is the bag. It's up, it's up, it's moving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: We never have a bag...

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: (unintelligible)

Mr. T. MCCLELLAND: ...and this is the first.

Mr. FRAZIER: This is an amazing guy. It's the Lindbergh of bags. He's gone all the way to Paris.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: That was Ian Frazier and Tim and Bill McClelland snagging plastic bags out of treetops in Manhattan in 1997, or trying to. Well, Bill McClelland joins us for a bag-snag update.

And, Bill, oh my gosh, 10 years? That's really an eternity in the bag-snagging community, isn't it?

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: Well, it seems to be it's about 90 percent of the entire history of the bag snagger.

BLOCK: Well, what's changed in the last 10 years?

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: Oh, well, many things. We still do a lot of bag snagging as much as we can. We're getting a little older so the rotator cuffs aren't quite what they used to be.

BLOCK: I see.

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: So it's - but we've really started to manufacture the bag snagger and we've started selling them in recent years. We've kind of moved up from several years of being a multi-hundred dollar company into we think the multi-thousand dollar company. I mean, we're not talking sometimes it's kind of under 2,000, so that's really not multi-thousand but, you know, you get to picture.

BLOCK: What, it's a regular movement now.

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: It's a movement. There's no doubt about it. It's really taking off.

BLOCK: Well, Bill, there is news that at San Francisco that they're banning plastic grocery bags. You know, I guess that's good for the environment but it's really not so good for snaggers.

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: Well, we really aren't too concerned about it at this point. I think I noticed the other day that there is something in the neighborhood of three trillion plastic bags out there.

BLOCK: Three trillion bags. You've got your work cut out for you?

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: Yeah, we're, you know, it's - there's three of us so we figured a trillion each will pretty much do it.

BLOCK: Don't give up your day job.

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: No. If I had one, I wouldn't give it up.

BLOCK: Well, Bill McClelland, president of Bag Snaggers Incorporated.

Thanks a lot, Bill, and happy bagging.

Mr. B. MCCLELLAND: Thanks Melissa.


And before we go this hour, we'd like to welcome a new NPR production into the world, Anna Louise Mayer, daughter of producer Charlie Mayer and his wife Rachel Henighan(ph) was born this afternoon, three hours and 27 minutes before ALL THINGS CONSIDERED'S deadline. All the best.

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