Bags on Bags

by Landon Bubb, AFM Public Outreach Intern

The Athens Farmers Market is the perfect meeting ground for dialogue about nutrition, community, traditions, and environmentalism. Most market patrons are aware of the environmental and social benefits of supporting local and organically produced food. I’d even assume that most regularly recycle and think about our long term effects on the planet. But one major problem that I slowly started picking up on: plastic bags are everywhere!

In the 1980s, the Dixie Bag Company of College Park, Georgia (Go Georgia?) was one of the first companies to bring the cheap and convenient product to grocery stores. Since then, single use plastic bags have become one of the leading causes of waste in the world. The main strengths of plastic are also their greatest environmental problem. Plastic is durable and lasts a lifetime but because of this, they have lasting impact on our oceans, rivers, and forests. I’m gonna bombard you with a few facts real fast (mostly from the documentary Bag It!) so bear with me.

  • America uses 100 billion plastic bags per year with the world using 500 billion

  • The average use of a plastic bags is 20 minutes but they take up to 1000 years to totally disintegrate

  • Paper bags are recycled 10x more than plastic

  • Plastic bags are responsible for an estimated 100,000 animal deaths a year

  • Sea turtles natural prey are jellyfish which look remarkably like plastic bags

  • In parts of the 5 trash-filled ocean Gyres (Great Pacific Garbage Patch being the largest) the plastic to plankton ratio can be 40:1

  • Plastic doesn’t decompose but instead gets broken up by sunlight into tiny flakes

  • Fish and aquatic life eat the plastic sludge introducing phthalates and other chemicals into our diet

So yeah… Our impact on the world can be both disheartening and overwhelming. If we ever hope to reverse our negative impact we have to collectively make individual decisions in the best way possible: through arts, crafts, and creativity!

Shop at the market

You’re already halfway to waste reduction by shopping at the Athens Farmers Market.

In supermarkets it seems like everything is individually wrapped in plastic, in a box, lined in plastic. The sheer amount of waste produced for some products is almost comical but the farmers market presents food in its natural non-shrinkwrapped state.

Bring a tote

The Athens Farmers Market always has a stack of reusable cloth bags at the card-token-shirt booth. Also I’m sure you have a stash of acquired reusable bags to bring to the market and grocery store.

Rocking a West Broad Market bag is acceptable

But getting caught with a funky bag is neither desirable nor safe. I found a great piece on cleaning reusable bags in order to help keep your bags germ free.

For 100% non woven polypropylene: wash in cold water and air dry. (The label said hand wash, so I put it on that setting in the washer.)

For cloth bags: wash in hot water and tumble or line dry.

For the shiny plastic, nylon or insulated type: wipe down with an antibacterial wipe or spray and air dry. Or ead the label if you didn't rip it off, one of mine says to wash on cold. (Lea 2013)

Make a tote!

If you’re like me and have a plethora of old shirts that hold sentimental value, making a T-shirt tote bag is a great way to repurpose a potentially wasted shirt. Bag the Bag, a student group I’m in, regularly visits elementary and middle schools with this craft project. Children are always excited to reuse old T-shirts in an arts and crafts project and it creates a dialogue about reusable bags and waste. Try it with your kids, nieces, nephews, or random toddlers for a fun, educational project.

Tote-ally a No Sew T-Shirt Tote

1. Lay your shirt flat on a table. Cut strips along the bottom edge. (The area between your strips and sleeves will be the basic volume of your bag so adjust accordingly.)

2. Turn shirt inside out and lay flat and straight. Everything goes way easier if you align everything well on this step.

3. Double knot opposite strips. [Make sure the knots are tight so things don’t slip out of the holes or break through the knot]

4. Turn right-side out

5. Cut along the neck and sleeves to form the handles

6. Bag it!

That’s it! It’s totes easy. I’ve never had a bag blowout with this but I’m hesitant to overload it.

Pro-tip: You can also tie the knots on the outside to have the tassels on the outside for a more bohemian chic look.

Bike with bags

If you bike to the market, panniers and baskets are the perfect accessory. I used to just cram things in my messenger bag and awkwardly adjust to the shifting weight but I recently purchased a pannier from Tiny Tank Tech and feel like I leveled up as a market biker. Every pannier, messenger bag, and handlebar bag is handmade by local Athens resident Audra Rich. The storage capacity reminds me of Hermione or Mary Poppin’s bottomless bag. Schlepping everything around is way easier with the weight positioned low, around the back tire.

Reuse your plastic bags

So you’ve got your tote, you made your t-shirt bag, and life is grand. But when you go to grab a handful of Cedar Grove Farm okra, there they are: plastic bags!!

So before you snag a bag, ask yourself if you really need a plastic bag or can safely nestle everything together in a tote. For weighing purposes, ask if you can get a start/end weight with whatever bag you’re using.

Also, your bag from last Wednesday’s market is still totally reusable. This article on cleaning plastic bags focuses on ways to best wash, dry, and store ziplock and produce bags. I definitely recommend a skimming. I’ve been washing a few of my produce bags for the past few weeks and haven’t noticed any problems with their structural integrity. So unless you forget about some tomatoes in the back of the fridge (guilty) or used it for meat, your bags can last a long while. Remember, both plastic and diamonds are forever.

So, I present you with a quest to reduce and reuse bags at the farmers market. It can seem mundane, annoying, and time consuming to question plastic bags but the habits and practices we adopt on the individual and local scale coalesce to solve global problems. In addition to questioning where our food comes from, we should be mindful of how we get it from the farmer to the plate.