Plastic…fantastic?

Bagged mesclun and spinach at the farmers\' market

At the market today, greens were finally in great supply, with loads of mesclun and spinach: two giant, clear leaf bags full of each. I went home with quite a bit—no sold out sign this week!—which was great, ’cause I was selling right up to the end. And, as usual, I noticed all of the disposable plastic involved…

Greens, and market/CSA share harvests in general, usually involve lots of PLASTIC BAGS. In the beginning, this didn’t overly concern me on any level, other than that buying bags by the hundreds and thousands was kinda costly. But being on the dispensing side of this steady stream of plastic gradually made me realize how much of it is continuously being tossed out there FOR NO LASTING PURPOSE.

What got to me first wasn’t the environmental issue, but the fact that people were profiting off of this useless mass consumer habit of taking tons of “free” bags at every stop… Don’t like being fooled again and again… This culminated in one way for me about two years ago, when I stopped taking shopping bags for, like, 98% of my store shopping. Last year, I started cutting down on the way I offer shopping bags at the market: instead of automatically grabbing a bag for a customer as I asked if they needed one, I ask in a  leading way, kinda eying what they’re carrying already—not surprisingly, with all of the anti-plastic bag attention lately, the majority of people so far this year bring a basket or cart, or fit their purchases into a bag they already have.

I mean, to grow greens, it takes 40-60 days of watching, watering, weeding…and suddenly, in less than 24 hours, they’re harvested, bagged, distributed, and, hopefully, within another 2-3 days, EATEN. And the really useful life of the plastic in a bag of fresh-market greens is more like a very few hours, because once you’ve gotten your greens home, there are many more efficient ways to refrigerate them (like in a nice cotton bag, in a salad spinner, in a big bin,…). But there’s nothing that easily replaces the convenience of plastic for that last little trip between stand and home (a couple of people have asked that everything, greens and all, be tossed loose into their own shopping tote, which is kinda cool and should work no problem, but doesn’t sound too easy to encourage amongst ALL…).

So what am I getting at exactly, besides the OBVIOUS? Well, I guess it’s that plastic is curiously useful stuff, I’m not about to outright REJECT it in all its many handy shapes and forms, but I should learn more about it for a start… More as it unfolds! ;)

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15 thoughts on “Plastic…fantastic?”

  1. I’ve been looking at and falling in love with “tiny living” lately and found your blog through one of my searches. I would like to ask you if I could do a short interview, perhaps 5 or so questions and a picture or two of your choice, for some “Tiny Lifer” profiles I’m planning for my blog.

    You can see the referencing post here if you’d like to see what I’m talking about.

    Each profile is intended to give people who are living in conventionally sized homes (1500+ square feet) a look into what it’s like to downsize, whether for ecological or financial reasons, or simply a desire to simplify their lives.

    If you’d be interested, please email me at greenplantDOTblogATgmailDOTcom with the name of your blog and your square footage. I’m hoping to keep most of the profiles in the 1200 square foot or less range.

    Thank you!

  2. People could always use the plastic bag when they get home.  I reuse plastic bags constantly.  As you pointed out, it’s not the greatest way to store lettuce long term but I’m failing to think of a good alternative for your sales, short of, as you say, dumping it free into the consumer’s own bag.

    It’s important to remember that plastic bags only constitute about 5% of landfill waste. 

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3070942/

    Air and water pollution, loss of biodiversity, etc… all far more crucial than the plastic bag issue, in my opinion — and local sales are obviously contributing beneficially to the major issues.

    Nice lettuce!  Yum!  Enjoy the blog — keep it coming.

  3. We struggle with the same problem!  Greens, cherry tomatoes, tiny hot peppers…  For the later we have switched to small paper bags, gut with greens being moist what is one to do?

    I have considered spending the winter sewing hundreds of little muslin bags and giving them with a 25 or 50 cent deposit at market, and counting on CSA members to be responsible enough to bring them back,  but then I am adding loads of laundry and folding  to my weekly farm chores…  I considered finding a CSA member who is intrested in earning a few cents off their CSA share for each bag they wash and fold for me (100 bags (1 laundry load) equals $5-$10 off a week?)  Good ideas, maybe, but more orginzation & implementation and don’t we all have enough of that already?  Maybe next year…

  4. Here in France, the tiny marketeers quite often portion things like cherry  tomatoes, gooseberries etc in the plastic punnets for display but when you’ve chosen the one you want they tip it into a paper bag so they can re-use the punnet.  Also most people have a wicker shopping basket so veg can be put in without packaging and without squashing.

    I have lots of ‘bags for life’, from UK supermarkets (you buy the first one and when it fails they will exchange it for a new one)  Not that I can get them exchanged here but since most French supermarkets have stopped handing out plastic bags (because of the time it takes them to decay in landfill), when I do get a plastic carrier I store it for later use.  They never get thrown away empty.

  5. Amy – Green Plant(t): If you’re profiling gardeners of 1200 sq ft gardens, this one’s quite tiny for a market garden, but it’s still more like 100,000+ sq ft… It’s just over two acres, and an acre is about 44,000. ;)

    Monica: Yeah, no simple solution comes to mind, it seems like something that would come from people themselves, but I’m sure it’ll get figured out here, in time. I hear you about the kinda smaller percentage of landfill waste that bags constitute. In my case, though (and I was gonna explain this in the post, but it was already long!), I’d say my motivation for cutting out bags isn’t directly “pollution,” it comes more from thinking that People out there are profiting from all this excess bagging. It’s another stupid consumer culture thing, where we’re all trained to take bags everywhere we go, as if they’re FREE. So the…plastic bag industry is profiting in a sneaky way from yet another excess. I really don’t like the idea of people being fooled and ripped off…with planet-wide environmental damage as an uncaring byproduct. Something like that!

    CSA-farmer girl: Yes, I’ve been offered and priced cotton bags (too expensive), and thought of making ’em as well, also considered the deposit thing, and I’m in the same position as you: not enough time, or decisive focus, or…well, maybe next season (or later this one…).

    Deborah: We have a huge garbage bag jam-packed with saved grocery bags from the last few years, must be thousands. I could re-use. People also occasionally give me saved bag collections, which slowly get reused. I don’t know, I have this resistance to making bag recycling a major focus at the market. I have to think through to why exactly… I’ll let you know when I do!

    OrganicCats: Depends on the veggie, but mostly quantity gets fed to animals or put on the compost heap, in that order. I’d like to be able to sell or give away nearly everything I grow, but you have to overplant by quite a bit, I’ve found 25% or more, to ensure adequate yields, especially with our increasingly crazy weather… I don’t think of it as waste, it all gets cycled back into the soil. But I can imagine, at least on this small scale, having people take practically everything at one stage or another, picking up market leftovers, and coming in to the field to pick through beds that’re past regular harvest. It’s slow and steady local community building around the field…

  6. I’ve been trying to remember my canvas bag when I go shopping, I finally found one that rolls back up into itself- so it fits in a small space- and have been keeping it in my backpack/purse
    I keep hoping that the compostable plastic bag people will be given some big tax breaks or something so that their products will become cheaper- but then… we’re still making a big ol’mess having those made- and using them just once. ..
    This winter I started to attack our “bag’o’bags” under the kitchen counter- My plan was to crochet them into reusable, durable shopping bags. I like the end result- but find they’re bulky to carry around with me.   :(

  7. Mike,

    I just started falling into the plastic bag phenomena myself.  As you said, it doesn’t quite feel right going through so much plastic at one time.  You notice it way more on the supply end than you do as a consumer.

    That said, I don’t see an obvious way around it for greens.  Where, by the way do you get your bags for greens?  I’ve started by using cheap freezer bags from the store, but I’m interested in finding something in larger quantities (and cheaper).

    Chris

  8. Mike – Oh! I’m sorry if I was unclear. I’m profiling people who live in “tiny” homes. I thought that might apply to you, but I wasn’t sure. It seems that many people living in a sustainable, homestead lifestyle often live in smaller homes. If you’d be interested, let me know! :)

  9. L.Bo Marie: Yeah, that big bag of bags… It’s crazy…

    Chris: I’ve been using 8lb and 10lb bags from a bulk grocery store here. They come in boxes of 100, in sizes from…tiny, to 10 or 12 lbs. They’re about $3-4 a box, so not super-cheap. I haven’t really looked into buying bulk. Someone gave me a roll of microperf bags, I think it was a thousand, they look like regular plastic but they’re porous so they’re great for greens. But I couldn’t find where to buy ’em…

    Amy: Sorry, you were perfectly clear, I just didn’t read carefully. Guess I’m garden-obsessed! Here, it’s a 100+ year old farmhouse, not that big, but quite a bit over 1200 sq ft. If I move, I think I’d like a tiny home to go with the microfarm… I’ve looked online at designer prefabs and there’s at least one cool mobile home that you can have trucked to different spots. And the whole straw bale/adobe/cob/rammed earth natural materials side is really interesting… Yurts look great, too! But that’s all just daydreaming right now…

  10. Mike – That’s alright, I understand. :D Well, if you ever do find yourself downsizing your home, I’ll be there! I really like the yurts too; I just don’t know if my husband would be that interested.

    But you have given me a good idea. I think soon I’ll start profiling “tiny gardeners” too. That is, I’ve become very interested in the “sub-acre agriculture” that some people have been doing. Hope you don’t mind if I steal your idea. ;)

  11. There is a company that sells cellophane bags which are made from cellulose/renewable wood resource.  A woman who sells 100# of salad mix a week has been using them for years.

    PAK-SEL   1-800-635-2247 
    7205 SE  Johnson Creek Blvd
    Portland  OR 97206

  12. The plastic issue is a puzzle. I’ve considered selling only by weight – that way people can bring their own bags and weigh into them. The up side is much less prep time; the  downside is that pricing by pound can make thing sound very expensive. My lettuce mix would be $6-$8/ pound. (yes, I’m in the US) Maybe if I advertised price per ounce?

    Now I’m curious: do other farmers’ market folks sell by weight? If so, which products?

  13. How many oz are the bags you now sell? Maybe advertise ‘$/oz (average bag)’ and then give the price per pound as well. You could also offer muslin bags for sale – I know I would buy some. I’ve reduced most of the bags I get at stores, but I never know what to do with greens in the fridge.

  14. Ha! This reminds me of two separate instances where an older women shoved the bunches of flowers that they bought from us directly into their purses. We found it quite amusing.

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