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by Michael Tabor | 2008

Tabor is one grocer that will not ask you paper or plastic. In an effort to curb pollution and promote sustainability, he has stopped giving out plastic bags in his market and offers environmentally friendly tips for consumers when going shopping.

For several years now, I’ve been feeling guilty about using plastic bags at my farm markets. I’m a farmer who grows sustainable food and markets it at affordable prices in mostly mixed-income neighborhoods: Brookland (near Catholic University), and Adams Morgan (18th Street and Columbia Rd, NW) are my primary outlets.

I looked into buying polypropylene bags that are made in China and are marketed as ‘green’ in supermarkets, but found out the dye pollutes and the bags themselves are made from petroleum. Because the bags are cheap, costing stores approximately 40 cents and sold for $1.00 or more, people tend to buy them and then forget to bring them back the next time they shop; like plastic water bottles, they end up being another form of pollution and waste.

Regular plastic shopping bags are cheaper, at only one and a half cents each, than the best 100 percent recycled paper shopping bag, which costs about 15 cents. Therefore a case of 1,000 plastic bags cost $15.00 while 1,000 paper bags cost $150! But as with many cheap products, there are societal and environmental costs.

Last year, I offered customers a 25 cent refund if they brought their own bags to my market. That seemed to accomplish little. So, this year, I just went “cold turkey.” I put signs up in English and Spanish explaining the problem and asked folks to bring their own bags. I also stated I would not be offering new plastic ones. A few folks complained and refused to buy from me, but most seemed to understand. Some went home and brought me used bags. I now either give my customers the used plastic bags or ask for a 15 cent donation for a paper shopping bag. I’ll see if more folks bring bags the next few weeks.

Some things you can do

1. Remember to bring your own bags when you shop.

2. Ask the manager of a supermarket for the name of the company’s vice president. Call and explain that nationwide chains, such as Whole Foods, have stopped using plastic bags and you’ll stop shopping there unless they do likewise. Tell that to the store manager, too!

3. If you shop at a farmers market, ask the farmers to explore alternatives to the use of plastic. Talk to the market manager about an overall market policy banning plastic bags. Most markets are sponsored by a community group so, if possible, contact the sponsor with the same request.

4. Buy a reusable bag like the ones Whole Foods offers, which are made from 80 percent recycled products. You can then reuse it anywhere you shop.

5. Buy your own paper bags to bring when you shop. What I bought for my market cost about 15 cents each, are made from 100 percent recycled paper, and are sold in pallets of 18 “bundles”; a bundle is 400 bags. You can buy them from ACME Bags in Jessup, MD (301-953-3131) or if you just want one or two bundles, you can call me and I will share them (240-505-6282).   


Michael Tabor is a Sierra Club member whose farm is located above Hancock, MD. He markets in the Washington DC area and also supplies Goucher College in Towson, MD with his produce. Michael also worked on initiating and helping to pass a Maryland Farm-to-Cafeteria Act that encourages public schools to buy locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

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