Monday, March 2, 2009

The Issue of Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are everywhere, hence their usefulness and the problems they cause. They are the perfect tool to transport your greens from market to home and they are just as commonly found blowing through the streets and waters surrounding your local marketplace. As consumers, we may take responsibility for these bags in order to maximize their utility to serve our needs and to lessen their impacts on the environment.

Do you really need a bag? This is the primary question to ask yourself when confronted with situation of selecting your produce. Sometimes you do. When the object of purchase is small like dried beans or perishable like cut baby greens it is hard to imagine stuffing these items right into your market basket. Reconsider whether you really need a bag to get home a bundle of carrots, a head of cabbage, a small load of potatoes, a couple of apples, etc... There are a great number of vegetable items that really do require no packaging between harvest to the refrigerator at your home. This requires some responsibility on the part of the consumer and the sales representative. In San Francisco on Saturdays, Lee and I have innovated a "shuttle" to get the produce from our bins to the scale in order to complete the sale. For customers who have already thought in advance and have their large market basket, cart or supply of recycled plastic bags this really works and each time it works we have eliminated another instance of single use waste in the form of plastic bags. Once you wrap your head around all of the plastic bags floating around out there already it is hard to imagine having to send off brand new ones to hardly worthwhile purposes. Most produce will move just fine in your large basket without plastic to your home where you must have a great stash of bags for various shapes and size of veggies.

At the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market plastic bags are soon to be against the rules coming up this May. As vendors, soon we will be unable to simply offer you a free plastic bag even if you think you require one. We are working with our market management, CUESA, to phase out plastic by offering compost-able or biobags in place of plastic and at a small additional fee. This places the responsibility on the consumer's side of the transaction. You are encouraged to bring your own packaging ideally. While the more environmentally friendly bags are a good last resort option, they really are a band aid for the larger issue of our behavior. Single use waste needs to stop in whatever form it occurs. We have plenty of packaging existing in the world already, let's use it again and again!

On that note, Tierra Vegetables does a lot of jar-packaging. Jams, sauerkraut, and hominy corn are a few of these items that come in jars on a regular basis. We hope that these re-useable containers will come back to us and we offer you a dollar rebate on your next purchase as incentive. They are washed and re-used in the commercial kitchen, cutting back on costs to the farm and additional packaging needed in general.

Tierra Vegetables' markets are quite responsible in the world of re-useable bags already. The farm stand has existed off of donated re-useable bags as long as I have been around and at the farmer's market now we hardly give out a handful of bags to those who cannot yet seem to "think outside of the bag," mostly tourists who come completely unprepared.

Thank you for being such responsible consumers. I hope that it is a benefit to each of you as customers to not come home with a pile of plastic and have to wonder how to get rid of them. Perhaps you can come up with a home recycling system where these same bags come with you each time you shop-see how long you can get them to last! Consider additional plan-ahead shopping measures including bringing old yogurt containers to fill full of dried beans to get them home or dried fruit at the market stand down the way from us. Sometimes it can be fun to discover new ways to make use of what we already have in our lives.

I admit to becoming personally militant about this issue as I have been enable by the Ferry Plaza market's goals to eliminate plastic bags and by the common sense the issue encompasses. It just makes sense. Sometimes we get caught up in cultural habits that we can easily change for the better with a minor adjustment of our perspective. However you chose to go about it, please learn to take responsibility for this issue alongside us so we can contribute to improving our world a little bit more. Be creative and innovative and share your ideas with us!

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