Tonight's GM: Bring Your Ideas about Plastic Produce Bags!

Come on out to the Coop's General Meeting tonight (7pm @ Temple Beth Elohim, 8th and Garfield Aves.) to discuss ways that we can reduce (or eliminate!) the use of plastic produce (roll) bags at the Coop. Here's the agenda item:

Item #2: How to reduce use of plastic produce bags (40 minutes)

Discussion: "Plastic bags are useful and practical, but have many adverse environmental consequences. Shopping (t-shirt) bags have been eliminated at the Coop (and other places), but produce (roll) bags are a thornier issue. We would like to brainstorm with members to solicit ideas about (a) whether we can substantially reduce the number of produce bags we use at the Coop, and (b) how to do so without making the shopping experience more inconvenient or burdensome."
--submitted by the Environmental Committee, the General Coordinators, and concerned Coop members

We'd love to hear your suggestions!


mathjosi said…
I feel that the over use of plastic bags is due to people's lack of understanding. Maybe the environmental committee could host a book club so that people, can work together to get more educated on environmental issues and how to go green practically in their lives. I don't personally experience issues with plastic bags, since I rarely use them and reuse them when I do have them. I would like to see elimination of non-recyclables plastics in produce, the #6 plastic that you have to get with your strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and baby greens. Maybe we can set up some kind of reuse system with the vendors if we can collect them cleaned from members. Along with this we could set up a teir system (I think that's how it's spelled) so that even bottles like the Dr. Bronner's Soap can be returned for refill instead of recycled. It's much more efficient to reduce and reuse than to recycle. Recycling is great, but in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to plastic... it's "feel good fraud," to quote Heather Rogers, since it won't be made into new plastic bottles and has to be made into something else mixed with virgin plastics.

On the issue of reduce work shifts, I loved the soup kitchen comment, so what about instead expanding the environmental committee to collect plastics more often or set up a collection center or start a book club to help member make better informed decisions about plastic bags, etc? I know there is limited space for this probably.
Maura said…
Thanks for your comment, mathjosi! I agree that more info is needed -- perhaps we can post more signs at the Coop reminding people of the impact of plastic bag use. In my household we switched to cloth bags for produce (similar to the muslin ones sold at the Coop, though I made my own) and we haven't looked back since.

Unfortunately I think that anything that entails collecting plastics at the Coop for reuse is not really feasible given our space constraints. But folks can use cloth bags for produce and refillable containers for bulk -- again, more info would probably be useful.

I hadn't thought about the #6 plastic produce containers, too -- food for thought, most definitely.
Coquille said…
I went to the last GM where we discussed eliminating plastic bags altogether. I strongly feel the Coop needs to take an immediate stand on this issue and implement changes as soon as possible. People adjust their habits quickly when provided responsible, reasonable options. Here are a few:

1. There needs to be an area or two set up so Coopers can weigh their reusable containers. There should also be tape and grease pencils available. I have never been in a health food store where there's not system for this in place and I'm still shocked the Coop doesn't have one.

2. If bags are made available, they should include an eco-tax, which is calculated at checkout. This would not be difficult if the bags were unique in some way. (The eco-tax could go toward funding further environmental efforts like biodiesel costs for our food suppliers.)

3. We should only provide biodegradable bags, which could be brought back for composting. (If compost givebacks are ever set up, coopers could drop off their compost in these biodegradable bags.)

Additionally, I'm concerned about our current plastic bag/film recycling system. People often put recyclable materials, especially plastic film/bags, into the garbage.

The signage could be much clearer, such as "trash only" and "plastic film/bags" with postered examples of what can be recycled and what can't. I noticed someone desperately attempted to inform people above the bins near the sink in the cardboard recycling area because it isn't being done properly. We need to sign more intentionally and responsibly.

All our waste and recycling bins use clear plastic bags, as opposed to black for waste and clear for recycling. This makes source separation needlessly confusing. What are the benefits of using clear bags and do they outweigh the confusion?

So many places around the world are taking a stand on the issue of plastic bags. We have the opportunity to do the right thing right now. How could we not?
Maura said…
Thanks for your comment, Coquille!

I think the option to weigh reusable containers is a great one. I often bring my own container for some bulk items, but for the more expensive items I tend to still use plastic bags, because I don't want to pay for the weight of the container.

A bag tax also sounds like a reasonable idea. I wonder how many people are voluntarily paying for their produce bags now that the t-shirt bags are gone? I wouldn't be surprised if it's dropped sharply (though, to my knowledge, that money never paid for as many bags as Coop members used).

Compostable bag return might be trickier. Space is always an issue at the Coop, so we might not have a place to store them. And we already generate so much compostable material that we send it to both the Garden of Union as well as the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, so I'm not sure that there's room for more.

Thanks again for your suggestions -- I'll pass them along to the group (Environmental Committee members and others) who are spearheading the plastic bag alternatives efforts.