On Saturday, April 25th, and in celebration of Earth Day, Berkeley will show how merciless they can be toward environmental pollutants, requiring all farmers’ market shoppers to bring their own bags or face a notable $0.25 charge for each one used for purchases. But don't worry, these bags won't be plastic; they’re made of renewable resources that could be added to at-home food scrap compost—a common routine for Berkeley residents. Continuing the Zero Waste campaign pioneered by the Boulder, Colorado’s Farmers’ Markets, all three Berkeley markets will be the first in the country to eliminate single-use plastic bags.
Single-use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags, made from “crude oil, natural gas, and other petrochemical derivatives,” take anywhere from 400 to 1,000 years to break down, according to the Worldwatch Institute
, an environmental watchdog group. “An estimated 12 million barrels of oil are needed to make the 100 billion plastic bags Americans use annually—more than 330 per person per year.” What’s even worse is the effect of plastic’s constituent chemicals that remain in the environment, if and when plastic does break down. And since most bags are thrown out (not recycled or composted), landfills become even more clogged and eventually, they’ll find their way to our waters, posing serious threat to animals that ingest the plastic waste.
Zero Waste is hardly just a recycling project, “Our goal is to close the loop by reducing our reliance on unsustainable and finite resources,” says Ben Feldman, Program Manager of the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. Home to organic and local food movement pioneer, Alice Waters, whose voice echoes behind Feldman’s words: “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.” Think the onus is only on the consumer? Vendors who sell packaged goods are now required to use compostable packaging and utensils.
Everyone’s chiming in to help reduce the use of plastic. Ever since San Francisco banned plastic grocery bags in 2007, representatives in Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Phoenix, and Austin (Texas) are considering following suit.
And it’s not a difficult one to follow. The rest of the country, farmers’ markets or not, should consider how we can help contribute to the Zero Waste campaign that’s beginning to catch wind. Eliminating plastic bags from our daily routine is a great, and extremely easy, way to start.