Berkeley Farmers’ Markets To Eliminate Plastic Bags

Plastic bags to be a thing of the past at Berkeley farmers' markets.

Starting April 25, you’ll have to remember to tote your own reusable bags to Berkeley’s three farmers’ markets. Starting then, the markets will be eliminating the use of plastic bags and packaging from the markets, becoming the first in the nation to do so.

The markets have adopted a “Zero Waste”campaign to remove, reduce, recycle plastic, and compost all materials generated there. The campaign will launch appropriately enough on April 25, when Berkeley also will host an Earth Day Celebration in conjunction with the Saturday market, which will include an eco-carnival, raffles, and demos of solar power.

“Berkeley, a city known for its progressive politics, is once again taking the lead by phasing out plastic bags and packaging at its farmers’ markets,” said Ben Feldman, Program Manager of the BerkeleyFarmers’ Markets, in a statement. “As a community, we come to the markets to support the stewards of the land and to nourish ourselves from the bounty of the earth. Zero Waste is beyond recycling; our goal is to close the loop by reducing our reliance on unsustainable and finite resources.”

Americans use 100 billion plastic bags annually (more than 330 per person per year), according to Worldwatch Institute, an environmental watchdog group. The plastic bags can take anywhere from 400 to 1,000 years to break down in landfills. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are needed to make all the bags used every year.

Shoppers should bring their own cloth bags and previously used paper and plastic bags to the markets. Vendors selling prepared foods will be required to use compostable
packaging and utensils. In addition, with support from a grant from the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, the Ecology Center (which operates the Berkeley markets) has purchased compostable bags, made from renewable resources, which will be made available to vendors at half price.

With the passage of a new policy, farmers will charge customers 25 cents per bag. The Ecology Center hopes that a fee charge for the renewable bags will allow farmers to recoup theirs costs and encourage customers to bring their own bags. These same renewable bags can be added to the residential food scrap composting program, used as liners for kitchen food scrap containers, and returned to customers as compost during the markets’  free compost events.

The Boulder, Colo. Farmers’ Market was the first in the nation to institute a Zero Waste campaign to reduce and recycle plastic bags and packaging. In California, both
the Monterey and Irvine Farmers’ Markets have phased out plastic bags, but not plastic packaging. The Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets are working to phase out plastic bags and have a Zero Waste program implemented at half of their weekly markets, which requires all prepared food vendors to use packaging which is either compostable or recyclable. In addition, the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market is working to phase out plastic bags.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags. Officials in Austin, Texas, Seattle, Phoenix, and Portland, Ore., have considered similar policies. Countries including Ireland, South Africa, and China have limited the free distribution of plastic bags, leading to a sharp reduction in the number of bags in circulation.

The Berkeley Farmers’ Markets are weekly on Saturday (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) at Center Street and M.L. King Jr. Way; Tuesday (2 p.m.-7 pm) at Derby Street and M. L. King, Jr. Way; and Thursday (3 p.m.-7 pm) at Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street. For more information, contact Martin Bourque at (510) 812-5514 or Ben Feldman at (510) 393-5410.

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  • Huzzah! I think every supermarket should CHARGE for the bags. If they did, people would bring their own.

  • Silly old hippies.

    So if I show up without bags, I am out of luck? Potatoes in my pockets? What if I always reuse my bags (which I do) and use as few as I can (which I do)? Where, then do I get the bags I bring to the Farmer’s Market? I guess I will have to buy them. Yes, that saves the environment.

    We should be wiser about how we use resources and I am all for programs to reduce waste. Use incentives, education, promotion. Charge people a dime a bag. But outlawing plastic bags? Silly.

  • I like this idea. The fact they are charging if you forget a bag but those bags are recyclable and biodegradable is great!

  • A good idea! here, our supermarkets don’t give plastic bags anymore. We even get special bonuses if we bring our own bags…



  • Oooh, what kind of bonuses, Rosa? Maybe supermarkets here should adopt that practice, too.

  • I may have missed a point there — looks like they have bags available for 25 cents? If that’s what they’re doing, then I withdraw my complaint.

  • How recyclable are cloth bags? And given that we’re not allowed to use grey water (not necessarily a bad restriction), what about the soap and water we use when we have to wash these bags? I dunno. Just asking.

  • Good to see more cities are adopting a “No Plastic Bag” program

  • I love that businesses are getting more environmentally aware and “green,” no matter what their real reasons may be. Here in Singapore I am still shocked by the lack of recycling program, and the abundant use of styrofoam containers. I wish other countries would take note too.

  • I love that businesses are getting more environmentally aware and “green,” no matter what their real reasons may be. Here in Singapore I am still shocked by the lack of recycling program, and the abundant use of styrofoam containers. I wish other countries would take note too.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  • Great! Hopefully more markets follow suit.

  • Changing habits takes time: I have plenty of re-usable bags for groceries but, unfortunately, I often forget to bring them along. Still, that’s my problem and I applaud efforts to reduce the amount of plastic bags that just go from market to home to landfill.

  • Tangled Noodle: One good tip is to just leave a stash of cloth bags in your trunk. That way, they are always with you when you go shopping. ‘Course, you have to remember to get them out of the trunk before you walk into the store. And I have been guilty on a few occasions of forgetting to do that. But I am getting much better at it. 😉

  • I get the whole ban on plastic bags and I do bring my own fabric bags when I go shopping. But sometimes I don’t plan on going to the farmers market and just drop by to check it out on a whim. So I’m wondering, what’s up with paper bags? Is that a no-no too? Why is it hard for farmers markets to stock up on small paper bags in lieu of plastic?

  • Our problem is forgetting to bring the canvas bags from the house to the car after we’re done unloading and putting produce away. Not to mention we don’t have enough canvas bags to carry all the stuff we usually get at the market.

  • Single Guy Chef: Apparently, paper bags have their own issues. The require trees to be cut down because they are made of tree pulp. They also don’t break down any faster in landfills than plastic bags do. See
    At this rate, we might have to go with Moe’s original suggestion: Buy only what can fit in our pockets!

    Nate: Perhaps you need a Food Gal tote bag for your groceries? 😉

  • Nice post and blog! Greets.

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