The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Where Plastic Bags Are Still Free

January 10th, 2010 · No Comments · Posted in Sustainability

Plenty of plastic bags at the farmers market

Plenty of plastic bags at the farmers market

Food access advocates are in a lather worrying how poor people will afford groceries if they have to pay the five-cent fee for plastic bags that went into effect a week ago here in the District of Columbia. Others are vowing to take their food shopping dollars to Maryland and Virginia so they won’t be charged a nickle for those plastic bags. Now officials in Maryland and Virginia are thinking the fee isn’t such a bad idea. Maybe they should charge there, too.

But there’s still one place where you can get your plastic shopping bags free, no questions asked. Just take a stroll to one of the wealthiest neigborhoods in the entire area–Dupont Circle. There, on Sunday mornings, you can do your shopping at the farmers market and take all the plastic bags you want, no charge. I was there this morning, and people were stuffing bags with apples and onions and cheeses and meats. Even empanadas and breads and jams.

Some of the vendors were giving out free cloth bags that had been dropped off by a local real estate agent as a promotional gimmick. Otherwise, it was plastic bags galore.

Something about this doesn’t sound right, you say? The five-cent fee on shopping bags passed the D.C. Council last year on environmental grounds because so much of the pollution fouling the Anacostia River turns out to be–you guessed it–plastic shopping bags.  On any given day, you can see them sailing through the air or clogging the gutters. We’ve had some waving at us from the branches of our neighborhood trees for months at a time.

So why, if farmers markets are all about “sustainability” and being friendlier to the planet, do they continue to give out plastic bags? And why do elite shoppers get free plastic bags, when peole who are just scraping by have to pay for theirs?

I think these are all very good questions. According to the text of the plastic bag law, an exception was made for plastic bags that are “used by consumers inside stores to package bulk items.” The fee also pertains to bags “from retail establishments.” Otherwise, I don’t see anything specifically exempting farmers markets from the bag surcharge.

But in any case, isn’t it high time that farmers markets that urge us to purchase “sustainably” grown local foods ditch the plastic?

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