Family Environment Helps Create Zero Waste at Chicobag

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It’s easy to get skeptical when you hear words like making a difference and changemaker used to describe corporations and their sustainability efforts. Wonder what it all means and if the high praise is deserved?

A company in Chico is working hard to both grow its business and to be a force for good in the world. ChicoBag was launched in 2005 after its founder Andy Keller discovered the humongous amount of waste created by single use plastic bags.

But ChicoBag, which makes high quality reusable shopping bags, reusable bottles and reusable utensils, goes beyond just making great products you see in the supermarket and natural foods store.

In 2010, ChicoBag was honored by the California Product Stewardship Council with the Green Arrow Award. They also recognized the company for its “Bag Monster” character, who represents how many bags the average American uses each year.

Americans use 102 billion single use carry out bags each year. “If you tie them in a chain, they go around the world 776 times,” said Keller.

ChicoBag’s commitment to sustainability is active throughout the company. More than just words or an ad campaign, it lives in its business practices and its employees actions.

“We’re always trying to come up with new solutions that help people reduce waste in their life,” said Keller.

In an unusual business move, ChicoBag tabulates the waste it generates each month. They’re down to under one pound of landfillwaste per employee per month in Chico, said Keller. And it’s not a small office. Their Chico facility houses their design, marketingand shipping departments.

ChicoBag achieves such low waste a number of ways.

They compost their food waste and they have chickens in the office’s front yard to help process it.

“They’re very efficient in processing compost,” Keller said, and you can harvest the eggs! They also minimize waste by encouraging employees to use reusable containers and utensils. In fact, a new product called Take-out kits is in the works based on this idea. These will contain a reusable bag, reuslable clamshell containers, a reusable napkin anda pouch to hold reusable items such as utensils and straws.

“It (came) out of our own internal practices at the company,” said Keller. “We want to share this with the rest of the world.”

The culture at ChicoBag operates more like a family than a business. Employees pitch in to do chores to help minimize waste.

There’s a family job list at the company everyone signs up for, Keller said. Instead of using napkins or paper towels, they usereusable towels that go on hook with each employees name on it. At the end of each week, chores include someone washing the towels, someone signing up to take care of the chickens, someone emptying the dish wrack and putting the dishes away.

“It feels like a family environment (here),” said Keller. “We all contribute.”

Since ChicoBag doesn’t want their products to end up in landfills. consumers participate through the company’s take-back program. It’s part of their commitment to extended product responsibility.

What’s interesting, said Keller, is that a large percentage of the bags they receive from people across the country aren’t even their own bags! But they’ll still take them.

If they’re still usable, we’ll will distribute food in them at Food Banks, says Keller. If they’re not, they’ll work with non-profits to repurpose the bags. Also they make their Grateful Thread Rugs from reusable bags.

ChicoBag is a certified B Corporation – a company that focuses on social issues and the environment as well as profit.

“It’s (a way) to show the world that business can be done in a way that’s helpful and beneficial to the community and to the environment,” Keller said.

ChicoBag definitely walks the talk. Nice to know they’re in our area and always looking to expand the difference they make.

To consult with Debra Atlas regarding expanding your green culture, contact her at or via her blog at

A former long-term resident of Redding who loves its natural wonders, journalist and blogger Debra Atlas is reachable or
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9 Responses

  1. Randall R. Smith Randall R. Smith says:

    Great company, hopefully, it can help find an inexpensive, quick, durable way to label the items routinely given to illegal campers in Redding. When these items (tents, sleeping bags, clothing, blankets, towels, etc.) are left for others to pick up, they can be returned to the enabler. Then we need an ordinance to require use and things will improve the next day. It’s all part of a “waste not, want not” culture which once was so ingrained no one would have thought to form a company to help achieve the ideal.

  2. AJ AJ says:

    HOORAY FOR CHICOBAGS!!!! Now, would someone provide (I’m sure it’s already invented and being produced somewhere) a tiny, long handled brush that can be used to clean the inside of straws. I have a thing about wasting straws . . . . but how to clean them, that is the question.

  3. Avatar Darcie says:

    I have always thought that my Chico bags were the best – I have even given them as gifts. Now I know why I LOVE them so much! Thanks for the article.

  4. Avatar Grammy says:

    I just wish there was a way to always remember to take them into the store (when I head to the check out is when I remember the bags.) I have had cloth bags for 15 years but forget them a lot. I always bring back the plastic bags to a store to recycle (ice bags, stove pellet bags, store bags..) I do love the product bags though. I turn them inside out and use them to put flour and spices in to coat chicken or fish.
    I love the insulated bags that Safeway has. I was them for a lot more than just cold and frozen things.

    • Avatar ChicoBag says:

      Hello Grammy!

      We have found that if you clip one to your purse or just placing one in your purse, you will always have a reusable bag at the ready! Another great way is to clip it directly onto your keys so it is always with you wherever you go.

      We have a wide variety of styles and prints that you are sure to love and designed to be unforgettable. We hope these suggestions help and thank you for doing your part in helping humanity bag the single-use habit!

  5. Avatar ERDocsMom says:

    I have loved my Chico bags for years. I took them with us when we moved to South Korea and I will take them home to Idaho when we leave. I never leave home without a Chico bag attached to my handbag. They are awesome!

  6. Avatar Lazlo57 says:

    They really set the gold standard for local businesses. The most synergy of any business in our area. Its a win / win situation for all, our area, the environment, employees, the owners.

    We are very lucky to have this as the model of future small businesses.

  7. Avatar CJ says:

    ChicoBag as a company is doing a lot of good stuff. Now if they could figure out how to have their bags manufactured in the USA instead of China, they would be even more awesome.

  8. Avatar LovestoEat says:

    I love my Chicobags. Recently saw a display of these at Costco. Who would’a thought?