The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 2, 2009

Fantastic News from Temescal Farmers Market! (Also a Note About Plastic Stickers)

I’m so happy I could cry! This morning, I was all set to write about my meeting yesterday with one of my personal heroes, Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man. But checking my email, I found the following message from Bianca Pardini of my local Temescal Farmer’s Market:

from: Bianca Pardini <>
to: Beth Terry
date: Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 8:50 AM
subject: Plastic Bag Ban

Hi Beth,

I thought you’d be interested in knowing that starting October 1st, 2009 plastic bags will be banned from all Urban Village Farmers’ Markets (Temescal included). With the encouragement from customers like you and the advice and support from the people at The Ecology Center, we are hoping this will be a smooth transition. Please see the attached letter. Hope all is well.

[09/18/09 Note: The bag ban has been pushed back to January 1, 2010 to allow the market and vendors more time to prepare.]

Bianca Pardini
Urban Village Farmers’ Market Association

phone (510) 745-7100
fax (510) 745-7180

Holy moly! For those who don’t know, I have been working both sides of this issue since the beginning of Fake Plastic Fish two years ago, writing to the farmers market to urge them to do away with plastic bags (here’s my letter to Urban Village) and also tabling at the farmers market all by myself and with Green Sangha to encourage customers to bring their own and refuse the plastic bags.

And in fact, during my visit to the farmers market this past Sunday, I took photos of all the plastic bags being distributed and used by customers and was gearing up to begin another push.

The current plastic bags are printed with a message asking customers to reuse them. And yet so many people continue take brand new bags each time. And while many have been trained to bring their own tote bags and baskets to the market, many continue to fill up those reusable bags with plastic.

The message is clear to me. Change has to come from below and above. When enough of us change our personal habits and speak out to ask companies to change, companies will listen. Then, the rest of us will be swept along in the changes that come from above.

I’m so happy that the Urban Village farmers market management listened! And that it wasn’t only me and Green Sangha urging them to ditch the plastic bags but apparently many other concerned customers.

The other lesson is that one organization’s changes set the bar and the example for other companies to change. As I wrote in July this year, a handful of Bay Area farmers markets had already switched away from plastic. And they can be a resource for other markets that want to do the same thing. Here is the letter that Urban Village sent to its vendors explaining the new policy:

Dear Urban Village Vendor,

Our customers come to the market to support the stewards of the land and nourish themselves from the bounty of the earth. In recent years there has been growing concern over the use of plastic bags at our markets. Recently, we have received many phone calls and e-mails from customers bringing this challenge to our attention.

Single-use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags pose significant problems to the environment, wildlife, and human health through their production, use, and disposal. They can take from 400 to 1,000 years to break down, and their constituent chemicals remain in the environment long after that. Made from crude oil, natural gas and other petrochemical derivatives, an estimated 12 million barrels of oil are needed to make the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use annually — more than 330 per person per year, according to Worldwatch Institute, an environmental watchdog group. Most plastic bags are thrown away, clogging landfills, and, with less than one percent of plastic bags recycled, many enter the waterways eventually killing animals that ingest the plastic debris.

On October 1, 2009, plastic grocery bags will officially be banned from all 10 Urban Village Farmers’ Markets. There are many vendors who have already made the switch to compostable bags. For those of you who are looking to buy “BioBags”, you can purchase the bags directly from BIOgroup USA, Inc. (Tom Goldy – 727- 789-1646), or any other bag source of your choice. We understand that there is a price difference between plastic bags and BioBags so we are suggesting vendors charge customers 25 cents per compostable bag, if you wish to do so. This practice is taking place at many other farmers’ markets around the Bay Area. We hope that a fee charge for the renewable bags will allow you to recoup the additional costs and encourage customers to bring their own bags.

We eventually would like to make our markets a “Zero Waste” zone, where all packaging can either be recycled or composted. The date for this transition has yet to be determined, but vendors are encouraged to make the switch as soon as they are ready. We will happily give you the knowledge on where to buy the compostable packaging if needed.

As always, we are grateful for your participation in Urban Village Farmers’ Market Association, and for your support of the highest quality farmers’ market experience in the Bay Area. Please do not hesitate to contact us with your questions or suggestions.

In service to a sustainable Earth,
Urban Village Farmers’ Market Association

Are you an Urban Village farmers market customer? (Their markets include Temescal, California Ave in Palo Alto, Cambrian Park in San Jose, Campbell, Castro Valley, Los Altos, Montclair, Old Oakland, Santa Clara, & Sunnyvale.) If so, please please contact Urban Village and thank them! And also, please mention the new policy to the vendors and let them know you really appreciate it!

Does your farmers market still use plastic bags? I hope you’ll get inspired by the changes happening here in the Bay Area to speak up and ask them to go plastic-free. The example has been set. The Berkeley Ecology Center can be a resource for information on how to do it.

And one more important thing about switching to compostable bags: they are not the answer either. Better than plastic in areas that will actually compost them (like Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, etc.), they still require materials and energy to manufacture. Skipping disposable bags entirely and bringing our own is the best answer. I hope the proposed 25 cent fee for the bags will discourage customers from taking so many new ones.

Stickers on Produce

Have you thought about the plasticky stickers on produce? While it’s such a tiny amount of plastic that I never really worried about them, I realized the other day that I really don’t end up with many in the first place. Why? Because our produce comes from the farmers market where there is no need for each individual item to have a sticker.

Just one more admittedly tiny reason to support your local farmers!

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wild dill fair trade toys

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

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Beth Terry
13 years ago

Hi, Andrew. In principle, I totally 100% agree with you on switching from one disposable product to another. Paper and BioBags are not the answer. Amen.

From a practical point of view, I think we have to get people’s attention first. Some of the vendors at the Temescal Farmers Market are really moving in that direction. A few are offering handmade cloth bags for sale. I had a long conversation with Danny from Happy Boy Farm today. They are still using plastic bags, but also selling cloth bags that she makes herself and pushing customers not to use a separate plastic bag for each item. However, she said it’s hard to get people to change.

Danny told me that she actually has had a few customers tell her that they had switched from the Berkeley Farmers Market to Temescal because they could still get plastic bags there. In this area, where people are supposedly enlightened, some of them are choosing plastic bags on purpose!

But a lot of people are bringing their reusable bags or bringing back their plastic bags to reuse. I think it’s a process to get people to think about bringing their own bags. And we don’t want the vendors to suffer because the public forgets their bags and then doesn’t buy because there are no bags offered. These independent farmers are soooo valuable compared to the crap that is sold at Safeway or even the stuff that is shipped from far away at Whole Foods.

I think it’s a balancing act.

And also, at least in Oakland and Berkeley, the bags can be composted. So of course, BioBags don’t help when people take them home to cities outside Oakland or Berkeley. But I think most of them are going to be able to compost.

I’m with you on the paper bags. I think they are the wrong idea. Unless they are made from 100% recycled paper.

13 years ago

Unfortunately when I went to the Old Oakland farmers market this past Friday, I still saw all the vendors using plastic bags. The sign was out saying no more plastic bags. I went to ask some of the vendors why they are still using plastic and found out that the market has push back the ban to February 1st. So I guess it’s just a small setback for this plastic bag ban.

What I am wondering is if this ban is correctly placed. The markets ban plastic bags but allow vendors to use paper or biodegradble bags. Isn’t that just not a switch to another type of resource? Shouldn’t it just be an outright ban overall? Great to see a push to the greener side of things but the impact is still there. Biodegradable bags do not just magically degrade if they fly around on the street and many cities do not offer composting yet. Paper can be recycled but produce much more CO2 pollutants when manufactured, are much heavier to transport, requires more trees to be cut down, and many of the smaller sizes are not 100% recycled.

My personal opinion is to ban all single use bags or don’t ban them at all. All we are doing is decreasing the use of one resource and increasing the use of another. It just seems to me its a a simple way for people to get in then news but not a very well thought out process.

14 years ago

Excellent news!

Now if only we could get them to extend the end time – it ends SO early in the afternoon!

WRT stickers on produce – two things – a former, youthful, coworker at SL once made a comment that indicated he believed that all the stickers on produce were both edible and biodegradable. I asked him what made him think such a thing – "why would they put something on fruit that isn't edible," he said.

Flash forward to Orr Hot Springs last month – my friend and I walked around the end of the bathhouse and noticed a ton of weird litter on the ground – all the little stickers from fruit peels stayed in the compost pile and when they distribute the soil around, it rich soil full of hundreds of tiny oval/round fruit stickers. Very sad.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Hi, Jacob. Thanks for letting me know. I contacted Bianca Pardini, and she sent me the following letter of explanation:

Hi Beth,

It is true–we have changed the date. Last week we passed out a letter (which I will attach) that explained why we changed the date to January 1st of 2010. After we distributed the first letter we received many calls from our vendors. We expected some complaints–change is difficult for people. What we didn’t realize is that we might have been a bit unprepared ourselves.

Many vendors complained of having a years supply of plastic bags (some of them customized) that they can’t return. We never wanted this change to be the reason for monetary loss among our vendors. While they might not be able to use the rest of their supply, they certainly will have more time to use some of it. These vendors also appreciate the extra time they’ve been given to prepare for the switch to shop around for the best prices on biodegradable bags.

We also noticed a certain bag vendor (who shall remain nameless)trying to sell our vendors “degradeable” bags for a price much cheaper than what true biodegradable bags go for. Unfortunately, these “degradable” bags are not only NOT compostable but they can’t even be recycled. We made the mistake of not educating the vendors on what the difference between is between a degradable bag and a biodegradable bag is.

We realized that we may have set the date too soon for ourselves as well. We want to educate the customers who might not know the reasons why we no longer will be allowing plastic bags in the markets and why vendors might be charging a small price per BioBag. We will be rotating among our 10 markets for the rest of 2009 educating customers and selling reusable organic cotton bags for a discounted price ($1).

We hope after giving customers knowledge, we will have even stronger support from the public and in turn, support from our vendors.

I had full intention of sending this e-mail to you sooner. It has been a crazy couple of weeks handling all of the feedback we have been getting. I know how happy you were with the news of the switch and I hope you aren’t too disappointed by the extended deadline. There are some vendors who are pleased with the news and have already made the switch. Please voice to them your support.

This switch needs to happen and WILL happen. I am hoping any bumps along the road we have experienced can be lessons for the next farmers’ market organization that decides to make the switch as well. Thanks again for your support.

Bianca Pardini
Urban Village Farmers’ Market Association

phone (510) 745-7100
fax (510) 745-7180

14 years ago

Unfortunately they have pushed it back until January of 2010. You can see the change on the urban village website.


14 years ago

Unfortunately the market has decided to push the initiative back until January of next year. You can check their site to see the change.


Beth Terry
14 years ago

Oh Daharja, I love that you think you're older than I. (I'm actually 44.)

Stickers seem like such a small thing compared to other big plastic items. I'd rather go after the big stuff because I think the stickers do serve some kind of purpose, with the codes that they contain. I believe they are a symptom of a bigger issue which is produce shipped in from many miles away. The stickers give information about the produce that is unnecessary at the local farmers market where the farmers have no need for codes.

14 years ago

Hi Beth – Stickers on produce are fairly new. I didn't know whether you knew this, so I thought I might mention it, as you're discussing the subject. I think I'm older than you (I'm 38), so you might not remember the pre-sticker days!

The first time I saw stickers on fruit was in the early 1980s in Hong Kong. Since then, they've become endemic. But prior to that, I never EVER saw them. They just didn't exist.

The question needs to be asked – if they weren't necessary before the early 1980s, why are they necessary now?

I don't think they are, and maybe we need to lobby the growers that we like our fruit as nature intended – sticker free :-)

Condo Blues
14 years ago

The summer farm market I go to doesn't have plastic bags because they don't offer bags at all. Never have. In fact, last year one of the workers after seeing me with my small army of reusable bags, asked me if they offered reusable bags if I thought they would sell. Of course I said YES!

As for the stickers, I know they are the bane of your existence :), but during the snowy months when I have to buy fresh veg at a grocery store those stickers are one of the few ways I know where the item came from. Some stores will have a sign indicating this, but not always. The stickers comply with last year's country of origin labeling law.

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Axelle, I never got the first invite! But I see I have two voice mails on my cell phone. Is one of them yours? Let's take this offline.

Happy Birthday! Why is everyone getting so freakin' old? (I guess the alternative is worse.)

14 years ago

First there is inspiration, then hard work accompanied by perseverance followed by mighty angst and then you get a PERK like this! Congratulations, Beth Terry.

In front of your readers, I am inviting you for the second time to come to my birthday blunch tomorrow. You'd better RSVP soon because the cake can't wait much longer to be made & the cook needs to know how many to bake for.

14 years ago

Congrats! Persistance pays off!

14 years ago

Another thing I've noticed at most farmers markets: no composting. So, for instance, if you take a sample, and don't like it, and want to throw it away, or a strawberry or a piece of melong or orange and want to dispose of the stem or rind, or a wooden toothpick, you generally have to throw them in the trash with all the plastic cups and forks and things. (That's another thing. Stalls that serve prepared food at plastic-free farmers markets should use compostable plates and flatware. There's an ice cream place, for instance, that uses compostable taste spoons.) Anyway, I'll write to Urban Village and other market managers about this. Thanks for putting the idea in my head.

14 years ago

Great job, what an inspiration! As a Market Manager in rural SW Virginia, I would LOVE to implement this as well…but many of our farmers would revolt! Baby steps…but hopefully soon! thanks for the encouragement!

John Costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

Great to see a Zero Waste target for the Market, though consumers have to bring their reusable bags every time. It is quite simple – plan what you need to buy and bring the appropriate reusable bag(s).

Small plastic fruit/veg labels are a pain. I remove the labels and leave in the bin edge. At the till, if the staff are stuck just tell them the variety of apple etc.