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.