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:
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:
Tips and tricks to extend the life of your produce without plastic
Let’s all keep asking for what we want and saying thank you when we get it.