Recycling and Using Less Packaging

From toys to phones to food and water, almost everything we purchase is encased, presented, or carried away in plastic or another packaging material. Both before and after it is used, this packaging has a significant impact on our environment.

According to a US EPA statistic from 2005, 31.2% of municipal waste is generated from packaging. A good portion of this goes to the landfill; the rest is incinerated, recycled, or ends up littering our oceans and cities. Packaging also takes energy and natural resources to produce. Writes Daniel Imhoff in his book Paper or Plastic, “The downstream issues of collection, recycling, landfilling, and incinerating, while consequential, are dwarfed by the ‘upstream’ consequences of packaging production.” The production of packaging requires energy and natural resources like wood, metals, minerals and crude oil. Tree-harvesting, ore-mining and oil-drilling all have significant environmental impacts, including habitat degradation and pollution.

Recycling has a HUGE positive impact on the environment, because it takes fewer resources (like energy and water) to reprocess materials than to create them from scratch. For example, recycling an aluminum can takes 95% less energy than making an aluminum can from scratch. Reprocessing also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The city of San Francisco is on the forefront of reducing packaging waste. In 2007, the city initiated a ban on plastic carrying bags in large supermarkets. And the city’s latest announcement is a major boon for the environment: starting on Earth Day 2008, all non-compostable, rigid plastics will be accepted for recycling in the blue bins as well (only some rigid plastics are currently accepted). The city is making it increasingly easier to recycle and compost, which will help San Francisco meet its goal of diverting 75% percent of discarded materials from the landfill by 2010 and reaching zero waste by 2020.

Every week at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, we see inspiring examples of both sellers and shoppers seeking to reduce their environmental impact. Many sellers offer returnable or compostable packaging and encourage customers to “BYOB” (bring your own bag). Waste-wise shoppers carry their own reusable tote bags, coffee cups, water bottles, and even spoons and plates. Still, more than one million plastic bags are distributed annually at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. At our information booth and at other events, 4,800 plastic bottles of water are consumed annually, most of which are used once and discarded. Until now, almost all materials discarded at the market (more than 90% of which are recyclable or compostable) were wasted. That’s why, on April 22 and 26, CUESA’s launching a new Waste Wise Farmers Market initiative.

What We’re Doing

1. No longer allowing plastic bags. Ferry Plaza Farmers Market vendors only dispense bags that are fully compostable or recyclable within the City of San Francisco’s waste collection program, such as compostable BioBags® and paper bags. Plastic Bags FAQ »

2. No longer offering bottled water. Instead, we’ll offer delicious Hetch Hetchy water straight from the tap, free at our information booth to those who bring their own bottle or cup and for a small donation for those who need a compostable cup.

3. Providing Waste Wise stations. Waste Wise stations will include three bins: green for compost, blue for recycling, and black for garbage. Bins will be clearly marked and include information about what belongs in each bin. Waste Wise stations will also be attended by volunteers who will be happy to help you choose the right bin!

4. Working with market sellers to help them reduce packaging waste.