Plastic bags at market

I thought this was interesting: the Berkeley (CA) Farmers Market is banning the use of plastic bags and packaging. According to the article, they’re not the only ones working toward that goal.

This is something we’ve long thought about; one of the most wasteful aspects of our farm is the big rolls of thin plastic bags we routinely give out to customers for their produce. It’s a difficult problem, because we KNOW 98% of those are going straight to the landfill and we’ll have to buy more, but they’re also an important way to protect the high-quality produce people are buying from us. I don’t want to lose a sale of, say, lettuce, because the customer didn’t bring something to put the loose leaves in. And often you really do need to separate items or protect them somehow.

I’d love to have more customers bring their own; they can be reused over and over. We already do this for our bulk purchases at local groceries; I can use the same plastic bag for rice, beans, or spices many times in a row before it gives out. I have had a few people do just that and have profusely thanked them for it. And I definitely see a trend of more and more folks only asking for bags when they really need them (like for loose-leaf lettuce). Many of our customers seem more than willing to combine multiple items in a single bag (whether plastic or cloth). The same is true for the paper cartons we use for cherry tomatoes, edamame, and the like. I’d love to see folks bringing Tupperware or other such things to market to carry bulk items home in.

While the Berkeley experiment is interesting, you won’t find me advocating for bans. I don’t think it’s a market’s role to legislate things like that. I’d rather customers and farmers make their own decision, influenced by economics and ethics. We’ve considered putting a nickel surcharge on our bags, but haven’t so far due to the hassle of it (we work in quarter increments currently). So far I feel like the core customer base of a farmers market is thinking about such things already; the Berkeley situation seems like a classic case of over-legislation to me. Thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Plastic bags at market

  1. You’re right. A ban wouldn’t be the right approach. Too contentious. Even charging people doesn’t seem like the right idea right now. I think a much more positive campaign would be helpful. The market should include a note in its materials promoting reusable bags and containers. At your table, you could have a simple sign saying you encourage customers to bring bags of their own. Hopefully that will get people to realize and start thinking differently. If that doesn’t seem to work over time, you probably will have to move into the pay model.

  2. I agree, a ban wouldn’t be the best idea. I think promoting the reusable bags and containers would be a great idea. How about having a receptacle for plastic bags and a sign encouraging people to bring in their extra grocery bags? That might give people a place to put extras, and vendors a supply of plastic bags.