This summer Clean Fairfax is working with area farmers markets to encourage a move towards going plastic-free. We will be at area markets distributing reusable tote bags and mesh produce bags to replace plastic bags. Farmers market attendees often already own tote bags, so we are especially promoting the use of smaller mesh bags. These can also be purchased at Whole Foods or online. For example, Bag Again has mesh produce bags made from recycled plastic bottles: http://www.bagagain.com/home.html
Right now, even when going to the farmers market, many people are forgetting their reusable totes at home or in the car, and most people are using small plastic bags for produce purchases. I personally observed 126 plastic bags in a two hour time period at one area farmers market!
Although a plastic bag can be reused—and most environmentally-minded people do say they use them at least once again—consider the life cycle of a plastic bag: From petroleum use in the production to the energy use necessary to recycle these bags—that is, assuming people bother to take them to the grocery store—plastic bags waste resources.
Plastic bags are also a huge source of litter in our streams. I have participated in numerous Fairfax County stream cleanups this spring and have found as many as 161 plastic bags in one 100 foot long stretch of stream. Since they are not part of the curbside recycling program in Fairfax County, many plastic bags are NOT getting recycled back at the grocery store and end up in the waste stream or as litter. On the other hand, I have never seen a reusable bag (or reusable bottle for that matter!) littering a stream.
And plastic free farmers markets can be done. Farmers markets on the West Coast went that direction years ago, and countries around the world are taking the lead on complete plastic bag bans or plastic bag taxes.
In Fairfax County we have no legal restrictions or taxes on our plastic bag use. It is up to each of us to voluntarily make the environmentally friendly switch to reusables. Please remember to take your tote bags AND mesh produce bags to the farmers market and grocery store this summer!