What I learned from the “Bag Monster”

Posted on Posted in by Juan E. Chebly

Every year we celebrate ‘World Environment Day’ on June 5th. A special day to give thanks for the riches of nature that make life on this planet an understated but beautiful mystery of diversity and symbiotic purpose – millions of species coexisting with seemingly one common purpose: perpetuating an ever-changing balance of life on the planet. The irony of this International Holiday in the best style of the United Nations is that, we human beings, are the only species on the planet that differ from this purpose. So in our dissonance we celebrate harmony,  life, and everything according to Aristotle…

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”

But human consciousness is subject and slave to repetition. It is intuitive to know that to memorize a phone number one must repeat it over and over until one can finally remember it, albeit momentarily until we save it on our mobile, to then forget it forever. Ergo we have UN International Days of almost everything. And for this we should be thankful, and perhaps less cynical. This is the lesson I learned while dressing up like a “Garbage Monster” and harassing people at the UN HQ in New York.

For years UN colleagues have organized the ‘Green Fair at the UN’. Showcasing innovative solutions that aim to get us in sync with the harmony of our environment and one another, this space merited a cameo by the ‘Bag Monster’. This intriguing character was popular in the 70’s apparently, when awareness campaigns against polluting plastic bags were made popular. The premise is simple: dress up a guy or gal in a costume with over 500 plastic bags (the average consumer in the US uses about 500 bags per year), and make her harass people to create awareness about how bad plastic bags are for marine life, marine ecosystems, and ultimately to our health – a UNEP colleague recently cited scientific research pointing to the fact that our bodies on avg. contain enough plastic to build a small water bottle!!! Now there is nothing beyond the norm here. Except of course the Bag Monster is not castigating people who shamelessly carry plastic bags, on the contrary, it congratulates them!

"the average consumer in the US uses about 500 plastic bags per year"

It is the irony and witty humor that really makes people laugh. Somehow when we do awareness work this is quite the last thing we have in mind. However, good marketing will tell us that perhaps we ought to reconsider. Indeed people reacted very positively when I asked them why they didn’t have any plastic bags… the answer usually was “because we need to save the planet”. To that my automatic reply was “No need for that nonsense… we always have Mars”.

about the author