Farmer’s markets are fantastic places for sustainable shopping. Your dollar supports local families and tackles the environmental costs of food production because the food is locally grown, fresh, and seasonal. Food from farmer’s markets can also be healthier and more economical because it lasts longer. Yet, not all farmer’s markets address plastic waste. Some stallholders continue to use lots of disposable plastic, offering no alternatives for eco conscious shoppers who commonly face the dilemma of choosing local food or plastic free food. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have both?
Thankfully markets like The Warragul Farmer’s Market are taking steps to encourage stallholders and customers to reduce single-use plastic. In support of Plastic Free July, many of the stallholders at Warragul are embracing the opportunity to provide refills for shoppers who bring their own bags, containers, and bottles to this month’s market. Shoppers will also find plenty of unpackaged fresh fruit and vegetables, and products packaged in glass, cardboard, or returnable packaging. Reusable mugs will be available at some stalls for those who forget to bring their own travel mugs, and there’ll be a bag bin where folks can drop off old bags or take bags if they need them. I’ll even be giving a presentation at 10am for shoppers to learn more about plastic free living. Hopefully stallholders and shoppers alike will be encouraged to continue plastic free shopping beyond July.
If your farmer’s market doesn’t offer much plastic free produce, let the market organisers and stallholders know you would like to shop plastic free, and perhaps you can volunteer to help. You could ask stallholders if they have considered alternatives to plastic and give them some suggestions. You may even want to let them know you are unable to purchase their produce because you do not want to contribute to the plastic pollution crisis. When you do come across vendors who are plastic-free, let them know you care and appreciate their efforts. Businesses care about customer preferences so make sure they know what those are.
No matter how plastic free your farmers market appears to be, there’s plenty you can do to shop plastic free.
What to bring
The more familiar you are with your farmer’s market the better you’ll be able to make decisions about which things you need. For instance, I won’t bother with a mug, straw or cutlery if I know I will be happy with just my water bottle and the ugly mugs offered by some stallholders. On the flip side, if you are just starting out with plastic free shopping it can pay to be as prepared as possible. Here is a comprehensive list of the items you should consider bringing:
- Basket or reusable shopping bags to carry your purchases
- Reusable produce bags for loose fruit and vegetables and other goodies.
- Cloth bags of different sizes which close tightly. These can be used for bread and baked goods, as well as for refills of dry bulk foods like popcorn, muesli, nuts, and dried fruit.
- Some containers, bottles or jars for liquids and moist products.
- Water bottle or travel cup. Gippsland Water provides water refill stations at the Warragul Farmers’ Market to encourage people to choose tap.
- Reusable cutlery and straw if you think you will want to use them for dining.
- Returnable packaging from your last market shop. This might include jars, bottles, citrus bags, or rubber bands.
What to expect
In my experience vendors are health conscious and environmentally aware, so are willing to have conversations about packaging. It’s all part of connecting with them to learn more about their product – which they love.
Regulations require meat producers to sell their products cryovaced at markets.
Vendors new to plastic free shopping might need you to be patient, friendly and helpful until they get the hang of it. If you are chatting to them and they are struggling to find plastic free solutions, help them out. For example, if they are selling fruit or vegies in pre-weighed lots then suggest they use reusable bowls so customers can tip the produce into their own bags.
Plastic free shopping is not hard, but it gets even easier after the first time you BYOC (bring you own containers).
What to do:
When buying fresh fruit and vegetables let the stallholder know you have your own bags when they offer a produce or carry bag to you. Getting good quality fruit and vegetables plastic free is usually easy at a farmer’s market.
Make sure you have a good look around the stalls. Sometimes it’s not immediately obvious who can provide you with refills or plastic free packaging. Vendors might be saving space by storing bulk tubs under tables or their bottles might be returnable. If you find something you’re interested in, just ask about it.
When buying in bulk or getting refills, hand your container over to be pre-weighed so this weight can be deducted when working out the price. Light weight bags generally don’t get weighed but if you would like it to be, just ask.
Vendors will sometimes have slightly different ways of going about weighing and distributing their product. If you have a large order, some vendors will allow you to continue shopping while they complete the refills.
If you must buy a pre-packaged item, always choose reusable and recyclable packaging made of glass, metal, or paper over plastic packaging. Plastic is only ever ‘downcycled’ a couple of times before it ends up landfill; other materials, however, maintain their integrity through recycling.
Say ‘no’ to the little things like plastic ties, plastic bags, disposable cups and cutlery, stickers, straws and thermal receipts. Thermal receipts are covered in Bisphenol- A (BPA) a chemical used in the plastics industry known to be an endocrine disruptor. Disposable coffee cups are also coated in a thin layer of plastic so make sure you use a reusable cup. Ideally, anything disposable should be avoided.
When you get home, store everything appropriately and then stash your shopping kit back in the car or your handbag so you don’t forget it next time.
Do you have a great plastic free farmer’s market in your area? If not, which is more important to you, plastic free products or local products? I’d love to know why.