Meet the Strange Device Made for Plucking Plastic Bags out of NYC Trees

Each year, the Bag Snaggers, a team of city workers, removes 1,500 plastic bags from the city's 5.2 million trees.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jan 21, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

In a Season 5 episode of "30 Rock," Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon resolves to fix problems in her personal life with the same determination as she does running the writer’s room at work. A montage of spring cleaning ensues, but her home-mentum hits a brick wall when a plastic bag flutters into a tree outside her Manhattan apartment, spoiling the spotlessness. The stubborn tree refuses to evict the plastic intruder, so Liz attacks it in a fit of rage, sawing off the offending branch seconds before an NYPD officer zaps her with a taser.

In real-world New York, Liz could have avoided the headache altogether by calling in the Bag Snaggers, a squad of city workers who remove plastic bags caught in the city’s 5.2 million trees.

Part of actor Bette Midler’s nonprofit New York Restoration Protect, the Bag Snaggers use a patented device (a hook fastened to the tip of a pole that can extend up to 40 feet) to get rid of around 1,500 plastic bags each year.

As seen in a new short film produced by The Awl, bag snagging isn’t as easy as it seems—even if you’re wielding a gadget built specifically for the gig. “I have trouble…trying to get the pole to reach the bags, trying to get them to come off,” said an unidentified Bag Snagger of the removal process that, judging from the video, appears to require just the right mixture of arm strength, patience, and hand-eye coordination.

New Yorkers use more than 5 billion carryout bags annually, and the city spends about $10 million per year to ship 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills in other states. Given those outsize numbers, one might expect scores, if not hundreds, of Bag Snaggers scouring city trees for unwanted plastic detritus.

But there are only a few three-man crews. And they only work from November to March, “when trees are not leafed out and trash is most visible among branches,” says NYRP’s website.

Still, the team’s members take pride in their work. Extreme caution is paid to each removal attempt, with the No. 1 goal being not to “break the branches off the trees,” said a Bag Snagger in The Awl video.

Hear that, Liz?