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Farmers’ Market says no to all plastics

Apr 22 2009 - 3:11pm

In anticipation of Wednesday’s Earth Day celebration, Berkeley Farmers’ Market has stepped up to the “green” plate – by becoming the first market in the nation to eliminate all plastic bags and packaging.

“We’ve been anti-plastic for a long time, but we’re also committed to our farmers and didn’t want to negatively impact them through diminished sales or costs,” said Ben Feldman, program manager of The Ecology Center – an environmental non-profit that has run the markets since 1987.

The market launched its “Zero Waste” campaign March 7, demanding all farmers’ market refuse be recyclable or compostable. The new rule includes materials for bagging produce as well as containers and utensils for prepared foods.

Listen to visitors' reactions to the new policy

Full Belly Farm's Ali Budner hands Dana Berge, of Oakland, her veggies in small reusable cloth bags at the Berkeley Farmer's Market / Public Press photo by Bea Ahbeck

Although there are many goals of the Zero Waste campaign, The Ecology Center is especially focused on plastic bags because the Berkeley Farmer’s Market generates an estimated 500,000 bags per year.

To date, response from the public has been overwhelmingly supportive. Many visitors are choosing to bring their own re-usable bags to the market, but there is an alterative if they don’t. Vendors are providing biodegradable bags for twenty-five cents each. A $10,000 grant from the Alameda County Waste Management Authority keeps this cost from rising higher.

Among market vendors, the reaction is mixed because of the obstacles associated with changing packing materials. Saint Benoit Yogurt, which sells its products in re-usable, clay containers, supports the initiative.

Full Belley Farm sells hand-made cotton bags at the Berkeley Farmer's Market / Public Press photo by Bea Ahbeck

“I think it’s harder for some people to change over and re-conceptualize their business whereas with ours, it started with the [clay] jar,” said the company’s marketing director, Kristina de Korsak. Another vendor, County Line Harvest, has struggled more with the transition because it costs them about eight dollars per 100 biodegradable bags, versus just two dollars per 100 plastic ones.

Organizers say it’s hard to tell whether or not there will be any overall economic impact from the campaign, but the thrice-weekly markets have been going strong through the current economic recession. The cost-effectiveness of cooking at home keeps people coming back to Farmers’ Markets to pick up raw ingredients, said Feldman.

Shoppers carry their goods in backpacks and cloth bags the Berkeley Farmer's Market / Public Press photo by Bea Ahbeck

The Berkeley Farmer’s Market Earth Day celebration takes place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday at Center Street at M. L. King Jr. Way in Berkeley. In honor of the Zero Waste campaign, on this day, visitors can enter to win Zero Waste kits, Berkeley Farmer’s Market gift certificates and Ecology Center memberships.

Earth Day – April 22 each year – is a time communities and people from all walks of life – around the globe – come together to celebrate, show appreciation and give a little something back to the earth.


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