United States: Zero-waste farmer's market

Paper is the preferred bag in Berkeley.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

BERKELEY, CALIF. – On Saturdays, foodies and farmers converge. The weekend produce market here, like many across the country, has become something of a ritual – a parade of local food and culture.

But would a farmers’ market in this city – a place that wears liberalism more prominently than most – be worth its weight in organic arugula without a healthy display of activism?

Mixed with veggie sellers and crunchy tofu peddlers are the young, scruffy environmentalists who staff the Ecology Center, the outfit that puts on the weekend market and two others in the city. They’ve been enacting environmental change here since the late 1960s and started the curbside recycling program that is now commonplace across the country.

Lately they’re turning their attention to plastic – especially those ubiquitous bags that have been as much a part of American farmers’ markets as, well, the farmer. How else are you supposed to carry your precious heirloom tomatoes?

Bring your own bag, says the Ecology Center. And it’s best made of something recycled. Or bring along an old plastic bag from Target or paper bag from the grocery store. Just don’t expect to get one of those polyethylene bags that can take hundreds of years to break down in landfills.

Nixing plastic is part of the Berkeley market’s “zero waste” campaign, which follows on the heels of a similar campaign in Boulder, Colo. The ban on plastic is the first in the country for a farmers’ market.

To be sure, there’s still plastic at the Berkeley market. On a recent Saturday afternoon, you could spot it wrapping fish and covering some freeze-dried fruits. But if want a sack to carry home your vegan Mexican food, it’ll cost you. For a quarter you can get a compostable bag that you can toss in the garbage – guilt-free.

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