Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Before you Recycle, Visit the Farmers' Market

One of the many things I love about buying our weekly supplies at the farmers' market is the fact that I come home with very little packaging - I bring my own cloth bags and fill them week after week with fresh, tasty veggies. Sometimes, however, packaging can't be avoided - spinach is sold in ziplocks, eggs come in egg containers, and try taking honey home in a cloth bag. Yeah, doesn't work.

So although we can't completely get away from packaging at the farmers' market, we have an incredible opportunity to practice the 3 R's of the environment. We all know them, right? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. 

Everyone pretty much  knows to take those egg cartons back to the farmer who sold them to you. In fact, I now have a neighbor that saves all hers and I take them to the market to distribute them among the egg vendors (believe it or not, those egg cartons really eat into the profit). But don't stop there! Here are some other ideas of things you can save and give to your favorite market vendor:
  • Plastic Bags - Not that we have many of these floating around, because we ALWAYS remember to bring our canvas bags when we shop, right? Well, none of us are perfect and one way or another, we end up accumulating a few of those notorious plastic bags. Some of our market vendors have had to actually buy new plastic bags (because we haven't completely trained our customers to remember to bring their own reusables). So don't take those plastic bags to your recycling facility. Take them to the farmers market and let the vendors give them one last hurrah!

  • Glass Jars - I'm not talking about canning jars (but that's next). I'm just talking about regular old nut butter or mayonnaise-type jars. Glass jars are one of those things that are super easy to recycle. But don't forget, our first priority is to reuse! Most of my glass jars get saved to store food in the fridge, but I only need a few. So, I take my extra glass jars to our honey vendor who sterilizes and reuses them to sell honey. 

  • Canning Jars - Ok. I get a little greedy here. I do actually keep all the canning jars that I get from the farmers' market (pickles, jam, etc) because I'm a canning addict and I NEED the jars. Seriously, though, if you're not a canner, take back your canning jars (Ball, Mason, etc) to the person from whom you purchased it. Some will even give you a discount on your next purchase when you return the jar. 

  • Ziplock Bags - Some of our vendors sell baked goods, spinach, and roasted peanuts in Ziplock baggies. And these baggies, as useful as they are at home, end up adding up over time. Why not wash them and take them back to the vendor to use again?

  • Newspaper - Newspaper, as we all know is great for packing delicate items. Ask market vendors who sell such items (crafts, jams and jellies, etc) if they need your old newspapers to wrap their wares for customers.

  • Plastic Cartons - You know, those cartons our berries come in. I haven't quite figured out how to repurpose them at home, but the market vendors love to reuse them for their own berries, snow peas, brussels sprouts, just about anything small.

  • Rubber Bands - The mint I buy every week comes bound in a teeny-weeny rubber band so the stems all stay together. Take them back to be reused.

  • Twine - My greens come tied with twine. Again, don't toss it, return it to be reused.
Those are just a few ideas. The point is, don't stop with the obvious. Really think about the things we so mindlessly toss. Can they be reused at home? If not, maybe one of your market vendors can benefit. 

Now it's your turn. What do you take to your farmers' market to be reused?

UPDATE: A friend just reminded me about another recycling venue - We have an artist at our farmers' market. Her business cards are made from cut up cardboard boxes. She uses fabric scraps and brown paper bags in many of her creations. So ask around. An artist near you may have a need for things you never even imagined!


Seraphim said...

I must admit I am fairly good at taking reusable bags with me to my market. Like you I also take any egg cartons I have.
The only other thing I really get is small plastic bags containing meat (one of the vendors saves me chicken carcasses to make soup) - not sure what I can do with these as they can't be reused at the market. I have a small pile of the washed bags building up in my cupboard.... one day I'll think of something!

Excellent post, we need more people like you!

Jennifer said...

I buy strawberries every summer from the farmer's market. Every summer, I get my first green strawberry baskets the first time I buy, then I bring them back every week to be refilled until she's out! Then I send them back with her.

Melissa ~ Wife to 1, Mom to 5 said...

Yet another great post. I hadn't thought about it, but I sure will be making a point of putting it into practice. As a side note, our recycling facility here allows people to take what they want. I just got 4 dozen egg cartons from them - which I need now that my girls are producing.

sabakose said...

Great post with wonderful thorough ideas! :-) I just have to say having a child with a severe peanut allergy, I don't repurpose ANYTHING that once held peanuts, unless it's glass/metal. So IMO make sure if the baggie once held peanuts that it goes back to holding peanuts - just a thought. :-)

Heather @ SGF said...

Sera - Hmm. Yeah, once raw meat is in there, I'm not sure how to use it again. The only thing I can think of is picking up poo when you take a dog for a walk. But maybe one of the other commenters will think of something.

Is it possible to give that vendor something reusable to put it in?

Jennifer - Good for you! I was amazed when I hear our vendor actually has to buy those things, so I've been funneling them her way as well as trying to spread the word (no more new plastics if we can help it!)

Melissa - That's pretty cool about your recycling facility!

sabakose - good thought! I'll keep that in mind (maybe i'll just keep those baggies and use them for my stuff so they don't get mixed into the general population). Thanks for helping to keep me mindful!

Kelsie said...

I have a use for those plastic clamshell cartons!!

I use them for starting seeds. They make FANTASTIC little greenhouses. :) Just poke a few ventilation holes in the top and watch your seeds take off!

Annette said...

Fab post! I use plastic bags to make plarn for crochet'd bags, scrubbies, etc. At the restaurant where I wait tables part time, they save the little green plastic containers that berries or cherry tomatoes come in - great for when I harvest goodies from the garden and now I will take the extras to the market with me. Great ideas and reminders!

Heather @ SGF said...

Kelsie - Ooh! Great idea!

Annette - what a great art skill! Do you sell at a local market or just make gifts for friends and family?

Green Resolutions said...

Our soap lady uses packing peanuts when she mails out Internet orders. I'm going to see if she wants me to save packing peanuts for her this summer. Actually, I've been saving them -- I just hope she needs them :)

Michelle @ Leaving Excess said...

This is not completely related, but we just had a few ceramic tiles to toss out from our bathroom (which will be remodeled soon, so we don't need the leftover tiles from the original work). Rather then toss them, I listed them on in the hopes that someone could use them broken up as pieces in the bottom of gardening containers or *maybe* a mosaic artist would be on the list. Score! Not only was a mosaic artist on the list - she replied within an hour and picked them up the next day! Love it!

Heather @ SGF said...

Michelle - Another great idea! Thanks!