The plastic conundrum

A few people have contacted me about single-use plastic bags at the market following the announcement from the supermarkets about getting rid of them.

The thing is, supermarkets do nothing that doesn’t benefit them. If it sounds too good to be true that a supermarket is doing something good, that’s because it is (too good to be true). They are not suddenly “nice guys” because of this. Don’t imagine they’ve seen the light. It’s business and they just want you to shop with them.

The announcement from supermarkets to stop providing single use plastic bags at the checkout is obfuscation at its finest. This article on the news website The Conversation will help you tease out the tangled knot of plastic bags at supermarkets.

Personally, I think it’s specious to get rid of plastic grocery bags, when they continue to stock fresh produce unnecessarily wrapped in plastic (soft and hard) and/or on those damned trays.

At our market, we are taking action on the issue of reducing plastic at the market with a series of small steps. The reality is, we can’t get rid of ALL plastic, due to food safety regulations for some products. However, we are working towards eliminating what we can.

Some stall holders have decided not to provide plastic bags, yet have found themselves drawn back into having an “emergency” supply for customers who continue to expect them (guilty, Your Honour). I mean, what’s a stall holder to do when a customer wants to buy half a kilo of beans and a kilo of tomatoes and hasn’t brought a bag?

A number of other plastic container products have been replaced by stall holders with compostable or recyclable alternatives, which is a step in the right direction.

Other stall holders have switched to degradable or biodegradable, however this isn’t the solution either. We need to get rid of plastic, not just break it down into smaller and smaller bits or its “bio” chemical components over years and years and years, killing god knows what in the meantime. Besides, these bags still have to be made.

We want to find solutions that are sustainable in every sense of the word. And we intend to do it at a pace that doesn’t alienate our customers when we finally eliminate all plastic bags and containers forever. And yes, that day will come.

We have started up our Bag Bank, which accepts deposits and withdrawals of fabric bags (so yes, often still kinda plastic in a synthetic sorta way, but definitely not single-use, not soft plastic and definitely the sort of bag you reuse many times). Please bring in your disused and forgotten fabric bags to deposit into the Bag Bank — we’re always looking for more!

Boomerang Bags has started up in the area and we hope to see a regular representation from them at the market in the future. I have to say, it’s great to see an initiative that our over-stretched market committee didn’t have to organise. We are more than happy to cooperate with and support the efforts of other local community organisations on this issue.

We are also working on a new idea with the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Environment Education Officer to reduce and eliminate the use of “produce bags”… those bags that you put food in, then put in a bigger bag with your other stuff. We will use existing materials that will be upcycled. Stay tuned for that one.

Don’t ever expect to see a special SAGE Farmers Market shopping bag that you can buy to show how much you love us (and up your hipster game). Again, that sort of thing has to be made using new resources. However, there are a few (very limited) hemp tote bags bearing the market’s logo available, made by the local organisation Involve Revolve Evolve. They carry a huge amount of produce and are really well made. You can buy one through the e-market ($22) when it next opens between midday Friday and midday Monday.

SAGE’s ethos is to educate people so that they become confident to change their behaviours and habits themselves. After decades of supermarkets wooing us into plastic bag use, it’s hard for us to change our ways. But we can and our market wants to help our customers do that in a truly sustainable way.

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