What's more ironic than local, organic, seasonal food encased in plastic? That's what I wondered back in 2007 when I first started my quest to eliminate unnecessary plastic from my life. A trip to my local farmers market revealed more than just fruits and vegetables. Have a look at a few photos I shot:
A Google Search revealed that I was not alone in my frustration with plastic at a local farmers market. When I stumbled upon BlogHer CE Green LA Girl's post, A Plastic-Encased Farmers' Market, I knew I'd found a kindred spirit.
So what's wrong with plastic packaging anyway? In addition to creating waste that is not biodegradable and lasts in the environment virtually forever and harming wildlife, plastic packaging contains chemical additives that can leach into our foods and cause health problems. In fact, in its recent downloadable PDF Smart Guide to Hormones in the Food System, the IATP includes not only hormones we can ingest through hormone-fed meat and pesticide-sprayed crops, but synthetic hormones in plastic food packaging. According to the Guide,
...ever-strengthening science links exposure to many individual hormone disruptors—pesticides, Teflon chemicals, plasticizers and food contaminants—with these common or rising chronic conditions,3 including:
- Breast and prostate cancer4, 5, 6, 7
- Thyroid disease8, 9, 10
- Obesity and diabetes11, 12, 13, 14, 15
- Endometriosis,16 uterine fibroids17 and infertility18, 19
- Immune-related disease, such as asthma or allergies20, 21
Thankfully, there's a new trend happening in the Bay Area and other parts of the country:
Plastic-Free Farmers Markets
Many of the folks here in the Bay Area are conscientious about bringing their own canvas tote bags. The problem is that they then proceed to fill up their canvas totes with multiple plastic produce bags and plastic containers.
Until now, bringing our own cloth produce bags (or skip putting larger items into separate bags in the first place) has been completely voluntary. Now, three local farmers markets have banned plastic bags, and in some cases, other plastic packaging.
- 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) If your farmers market has eliminated plastic, Please please please thank the vendors 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.
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 recently announced they will be joining the No-Plastic bandwagon beginning January 2010. From their site:
Starting January 2010, all Urban Village Farmers' Markets will no longer be using plastic grocery bags. Customers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags. Biodegradable bags will also be available for purchase at the market. Another change will be the recycling and compost cans that can be found at every market location. Urban Village hopes to eventually make our markets a "Zero Waste" zone, where all packaging can be either recycled or composted. To learn more about plastic pollution, please visit: Think Beyond Plastics.
And do you think only people in the Bay Area care about such things? Think again.
Lynn from OrganicMania offers some beautiful photos of the opening of the new FreshFarm Markets near the White House, including one of Michelle Obama enjoying the farmers' offerings. Lynn helped to get this market up and running, and is pretty excited about it.
Aryn from Sound Money Matters extolls the new White House farmers market too and advises readers how to save money while shopping fresh and local. In her list of "What To Bring," she encourages patrons not only to remember their tote bags but also handmade produce bags or washed and reused plastic ones. What's the point of filling up our canvas bags with a bunch of new plastic?
Gansie from Endless Simmer discovers that bringing our own Tupperware to the farmers market can save bags and protect delicate produce from being crushed by heavier items. It also allows her to return the berry boxes to the vendor on the spot for reuse. While I'm not crazy about plastic Tupperware, I can see her point. As long as the produce is removed promptly from the plastic at home (I keep berries and other produce in metal or glass bowls in the refrigerator) a few minutes in Tupperware might be okay.
Katrina from Kale for Sale, who writes a lot about local food and has been steadily reducing her plastic use, expresses her joy in finding convenient and inexpensive bags at the Sustainable Fairfax farmers market, one of the markets in the Bay Area that has eliminated plastic bags.
Julie from Growing Green(er) Days just ordered a set of organic cotton drawstring bags to take to the farmers market and explains how to make sure the weight of the bag is not included in the cost of your food.
And Meredith from Trash or Treasure is proud that her Montavilla Farmers Market has skipped compostable dishware for their prepared foods and invested in durable plates, cups, and utensils. It's part of Portland's Durable Dish Pilot Project. Read her post to find out how the dishes are washed for reuse the following week and to learn the history of this impressive development.
What about your local farmers market?
Beth Terry writes about finding creative ways to reduce her plastic consumption and plastic waste at Fake Plastic Fish and encourages others to join the fun. We only have one planet. Let's enjoy it instead of cluttering it up with more plastic crap!
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