On Earth Day, 2019, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags, he said, “You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills, and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage.” It is true that nowadays people do see plastic bags in trees. But they didn’t used to—not because the bags weren’t there but because the people didn’t see them. I believe I am the first person who actually saw bags in trees—that is, noticed them in any official way. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short article for this magazine about plastic bags and other debris in the trees of New York City. Once I started noticing the bags, I couldn’t stop, and I soon passed the affliction on to my friends Bill McClelland and Tim McClelland. Noticing bags in trees changed our lives.
“In dreams begin responsibilities,” the poet Delmore Schwartz wrote. The same can be said of seeing, provided that the seeing is combined with noticing. Once we’d seen and noticed the bags, the responsibility part kicked in. We (mostly Tim, who’s a jeweller, and a genius of design) came up with a device we called a bag snagger. It’s a kind of grappler that has tines extending from a central rod which ends in a sharpened hook, like a pruning hook. There are no moving parts. You attach the bag snagger to the end of a long fibreglass pole like the ones window washers use, you lift the pole into the tree so the snagger is touching the bag, you rotate the pole so the tines engage the bag and wrap it around the snagger, and then you pull down and cut the bag free with the pruning hook. Tim made test versions of the snagger, and they worked well. In the nineties and the early two-thousands, we went throughout the city removing bags from trees, and eventually received a U.S. patent for our invention. Expanding our range, we took bags and other debris out of trees not only in New York but in seven or eight other states, in four time zones. We founded a company to manufacture the snagger, and sold a few, though never enough to make money. NPR did a story on us. I appeared in a movie, Jim Jarmusch’s “Blue in the Face,” talking about bags in trees and our snagger. The Times ran a short item about our invention. I wrote a lot of magazine articles about us and trees and bags.
Recently, the amount of bag-snagging we do has dwindled to almost none. Lifting thirty-odd feet of fibreglass up into a tree and wrangling out a bag from uncoöperative branches is work. We were in our forties when we started; Bill and I are almost seventy now, and Tim is pushing sixty-four. We dissolved the company, Bag Snaggers, Inc., a few years ago. Stopping the bags at the source, by legislative action, is obviously the sane solution to the problem. I’m surprised it never occurred to us, but I guess we were thinking artistically—removing the eye-blight, creating a beautiful (by comparison) tree—rather than civically. The bill that the governor signed last year went into effect this month. It says that stores can’t give out film-plastic bags of a thickness of a thousandth of an inch or less, a definition that covers a lot of bags. The worst is the white, almost-see-through “deli bag,” which has a well-known tendency to blow all over and minutely entangle itself in branches and flutter by its handles. These are the orneriest bags, and, with the new law, there should be fewer of them. (The law also allows an option for jurisdictions to place a five-cent fee on paper bags to discourage people from simply switching to paper.)…
Read the whole story here.