The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

July 20, 2009

Plastic-free Farmer’s Markets need our thanks!

There’s a new trend in the Bay Area: Farmer’s Markets going plastic-free. But we still have a long way to go, and the vendors need to know we care.

Back up: Two years ago, I wrote the post, “Plastic Farmers Market“, about all the plastic bags and packaging at our local Temescal farmers market here in North Oakland. Shortly afterwards, I got involved with Green Sangha’s Rethinking Plastics campaign, whose members table at local farmers markets, handing out cloth bags and encouraging patrons to bring their own.

To be clear: I’m not talking about reusable grocery totes and baskets. Most of the folks here in the Bay Area are conscientious about bringing those bags. The problem is that they then proceed to fill up their canvas totes with multiple plastic produce bags. Green Sangha’s mission has been two-fold: encouraging shoppers to bring their own cloth produce bags (or skip putting larger items into separate bags in the first place) and encouraging markets to eliminate free plastic bags in the first place.

Now, three local farmers markets have done just that:

April 25, 2009: Berkeley Farmers’ Markets First in Nation to Eliminate Plastic Bags & Packaging

May 6, 2009: Plastic Bag-Free Fairfax Farmers Market Opens

May 23, 2009: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market Goes Plastic Bag Free

I paid a visit to the Berkeley Farmers Market to see how it was going, and also chatted briefly with Ben Feldman, Berkeley’s farmers market program manager. Here are a few useful things I learned:

The Berkeley Farmers Market provides corn-based compostable BioBags instead of plastic. In Berkeley, compostable bags are actually picked up curbside and composted. Still, recognizing that corn-based bags are not a perfect substitute, the Berkeley vendors charge .25 per compostable bag in order to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags.

To encourage shoppers to reuse bags instead of taking new ones, Berkeley has always had a used bag bin at the entrance to the market where folks can drop off old bags or take bags if they forget their own.

And while most of the vendors have gone completely plastic-free…

A few unfortunately have not.

So what can be done? Here are some suggestions from Ben:

1) Please please please thank the vendors that have eliminated plastic bags for going along with the program. They need to know that we appreciate this step to eliminate plastic waste from our planet. Customers who are upset about having to pay 25 cents for a bag are often more vocal than those of us who appreciate the reason behind the bag fee. If you shop at a farmers market that has eliminated plastic bags, please be sure and let the vendors themselves know that it’s worth it.

2) Ask the vendors who are still using plastic to switch to a more sustainable alternative. There are plenty of ways to store produce without plastic. In fact, the Berkeley Ecology Center has put together a comprehensive list of solutions for buying and storing produce plastic-free. Here is their PDF document that you can download to use at home or print out and take with you to the farmers market:

HowTo: Store Fruits and Vegetables
Tips and tricks to extend the life of your produce without plastic
3) Don’t shop at one of these three markets? Why not ask the manager of your local farmers market to go plastic-free? The precendent has been set. So what about my Temescal farmers market? They are not there yet. I’ll keep working on them.

Let’s all keep asking for what we want and saying thank you when we get it.

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Classic stainless steel bento boxes and cotton lunch bags.

I only post ads for products I use myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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12 years ago

I truly appreciate this post! Last year I asked the director of our city’s farmers market why they allow the vendors to stock the plastic bags in their stands and hand them out all the time. She said that to get them to stop would “most likely cause a lot of people to stop going to the market because they don’t have their own bags and don’t like their vegetables etc to be up against one another”. I couldn’t believe it! I’d like to take a stand on that by selling reusable bags outside the market – the whole concept still hasn’t caught on yet in Minnesota. Many people up here just think of it as a fad that will go away. Thank you for your posts and I’m a full supporter of No more plastic bags!

Melanie Moondaggerz
13 years ago

Dear Beth,

I heard you on SEE JANE DO. Wow Am I Inspired!!!
My Co op stopped me for Earth Day this year and asked me what I was going to do for Earth Day this year.
I said” Reuse my plastic bags ” My friend saw my picture in the Briar Patch Newsletter and made me an award out of old colored plastic bags with my picture in the center It is hanging above my sink
I had not made the leap to eliminate the bag use by replacing them with cloth bags even though I knew it was possible to buy produce bags made out of cloth. I guess I did not want to buy them.
In the 90’s in Germany I remember going to a festival where everyone broght their own beermug with them: no mug no beer I thought “That would never work in the States”. It has to !!!! The time has come!! I am so not an email person or an activist but no activism no planet hmmm Maybe I can become an activist?!

Thank you Beth!!!

14 years ago

Robj — When I do buy doggie bags, I do opt for the biodegradable ones, but in either case, they end up in the landfill, since animal waste still can't go in the yard waste bin, and I thought the biodegradable bags were actually worse for the environment under landfill (anaerobic) conditions… am I wrong?

14 years ago

We do have some great farmers markets over here in the DC Metro area, but they are far from plastic free. How do you initially approach them about this?

14 years ago

After two years of having to rather aggressively force my reused plastic bags on farmers at the market, I actually had one who used to argue with me thank me last week for having my own bags.
At the very busy weekly market I shop at, one key appears to be providing the farmers with a substitute that makes it as easy (or easier) for them then the plastic bags that they have on hand.
While I personally have no objection to charging 25 cents a bag, I think it would present a problem at my market which tries to be open to a very low income neighboring community in an area where farmer's market prices for local produce (NJ) are already comparatively high compared to supermarket prices for west coast produce.
There appears to be no hope however of eliminating the plastic boxes that everyone puts blueberries in . . . but I covet those to cage my garden plants from squirrels and chipmunks and have yet to have enough so I haven't really pressed the point.

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

Great to see the local markets adopting a Zero Waste approach, with the odd exception. I always explain the reason for avoiding plastic packaging to staff and thank them for any inconvenience.

In the UK, there is an anti-supermarket grouping of farmer's markets, related media and Zero Waste enthusiasts, which advocate local shopping and highlight the downside of cheap ready meals, for example.

Refillables are on the supermarket agenda, at ASDA. This is a breakthrough for our trend which has always been strongly opposed by the large retailers.

Green Bean
14 years ago

Woot! Hope that movement crosses the bay. Over here on the Peninsula, is laden with plastic. I bring my own cloth produce bags that I've picked up here and there – Organic Needle,, various farmers markets, and reused bags that seed potatoes came in. I do see more and more people do that or letting their produce go "free range". Still, though, I think plastic is a big big problem at farmers market.

14 years ago

I skip plastic bags whenever I can, and will choose to buy things in non-plastic or styrofoam when applicable. Like, say, I choose boxed berries in cardboard instead of clamshell.

But what I really wanted to say was that yesterday for the first time in YEARS I forgot my cloth bags at home. I keep them in my diaper bag so I always have them with me, but somehow they ended up left behind on my stairs. I was embarrassed and upset when I had to use the plastic.

In that case, if there had been a biodegradable option, or a re-use bin, I would have been all over it. Sadly my market has no such thing.

14 years ago

Froghair- why not buy biodegradeble plastic bags for dog poo clean up? Reduction is better than recycling but boidegradablilty is better than permanence I always say!

14 years ago

LOL The Farmers MArket here in Burien… well let us say plastic bags r us should be the new theme. O few of the vendors when you ask wont automatically put produce in a bag then hand it to you to put in your vancas bag… a few do. I always laugh at their confused looks when I say I don't need a plastic bag. One vendor actually started to argue with me. Eventually I got the point across without having to hurt her feelings. Now if I could just get the shaved ice guy to offer a few Sugar free syruos and no plastic cups! Well like always say- baby steps.

kale for sale
14 years ago

What a simple reminder to say thank you to the plastic free vendors and yet I've not done it once. Thank you! I also want to add that the Fairfax market sells gauzy cotton produce bags – they are fabulous! – for a dollar and the Marin market is currently out of them (asking the market table about them would be great!) for two dollars.

14 years ago

In Mill Valley, we now have two Farmers' Markets (and soon, two Whole Foods). One of the Farmers' Markets is a plastic free zone …. almost.


Green Fundraising Ideas
14 years ago

That's awesome! My local Farmer's Market does a good job, but could make huge strides in selling locally grown (which always confuses me since it is just like going to a big chain grocery store) and eliminating a million plastic bags.

14 years ago

I love our farmer's market… but you are right! Whenever I get peas or strawberries,I have no where to put them. I reuse the same plastic bags every week… I keep meaning to make some reuable cloth ones, but he plastic ones are still holding up.

Pure Mothers
14 years ago

I wish ours would go plastic free. The San Rafael Farmer's Market on Sundays is the biggest in Marin. It takes place on thursday also (on a smaller scale).

I always try to acknowledge when a company makes a green change. I think that's important.

For froghair: I also reuse bread bags for cat poop disposal.

Beth – thanks for the "How To" extend the life of produce link. It's awesome!

14 years ago

I always skip the produce bags whenever I can, and I wash and reuse the same ones over and over, until they become utterly dirty, and THEN I use them for cleaning up after the dog. It's not perfect, but it's a start, and it sure beats buying plastic bags *just* for doggy duty. But my other issue is with the rubber bands that some produce items come bundled with (such as the asparagus in your photo). I have way fewer opportunities to reuse/recycle rubber bands, and so have collected dozens over the years. Any ideas?

14 years ago

Amazing how a little "Please and thank you" goes a long way.

Lisa Sharp
14 years ago

That is awesome! I wish ours was bigger, it's tiny.