In the bag

Andrew Keller

Photo By Tom Angel

The title listed on Andrew Keller’s business card is “Sustainability Evangelist,” but he’s also a local real estate appraiser. Originally from San Jose, he graduated from Chico State University in 1997. After moving away, then back again, he started ChicoBag this past April, and it’s growing fast. ChicoBag is a compact, lightweight yet durable, reusable nylon shopping bag. Keller sells the $4 to $5 bags at the Saturday Farmer’s Market in Chico and at several other locations. He plans to expand to the Bay Area and beyond. Keller hopes people will replace their dependence on single-use plastic shopping bags, used at an estimated rate of 300 to 700 per person per year, with sustainable ChicoBags. Keller says if enough Chicoans convert to the bag, this could save up to 14,000 barrels of crude oil a year.

What inspired ChicoBag?

I went to the Neal Road landfill, and there was this mountain of trash tied down with ropes and tires. There were plastic bags stuck on every rope, flapping in the wind. I thought of a bag that fits into your pocket. I have a book full of ideas. That day I started sewing prototypes. I went through four or five different designs.

I have a canvas bag; isn’t that the same idea?

Most people have a canvas bag. They leave it at home or in their trunk. If you have [a ChicoBag] in your pocket, you’ll use it. Nylon is made of oil [also], but I’m looking at the tradeoff. If it helps you kick your oil habit, as far as using plastic bags, then it’s worth it.

Where do ChicoBags come from?

They’re made in China to be as inexpensive as possible. The goal is to get people to kick the habit. If they were $15-20 each, it would be another reason not to use them. That’s why I chose nylon as well. I could have them made in America with hemp silk, but then no one would use them.

So, it’s a bag for the masses.

I want to make Chico a model for the country. Ideally, people stop using single-use products. Single-use cups, bottles, Styrofoam. All that packaging is my bigger vision. Right now, my focus is on bags. As a society, we’re not in equilibrium. We’re not living sustainability.

What can ChicoBag do that an ordinary plastic one can’t?

Christmas gift-wrap. There’s an explosion of waste during the Christmas Season. If the gift is small enough, why not use the Chico Bag? Then the packaging is a gift as well. I have them in green and red. Bicycle riders can keep them in bike packs. It’s great for traveling, for going on a cruise. For unexpected shopping. Camping. … If you cut the off the bottom, you could use it as a tank top…