CSA Newsletter ~ Week 21
And now a word about . . . Plastic
Several customers have inquired about--and mentioned a preference for--using fewer plastic bags in our produce packing. I'm an extremely resource-minded person, and here's how I look at the issue. As a society, we depend heavily on fossil fuels for transportation, and plastic is one of the by-products. Plastic is very light, strong, and effective in many ways. We use plastic bags in our CSA packing to keep items separate, and to protect sensitive crops. They also keep greens from wilting or drying out and enhance their storage life.
Compared to glass, wood, metal, or paper, plastic usually requires far fewer resources for production and transportation, lasts longer, and is easier to recycle. Unlike the fuels we burn, which are non-renewable resources, plastic is highly recyclable. Almost all bags out there, including all those used at the farm, are # 1 or #2 plastic, both of which are very recyclable. Compared to glass, these materials use FAR less resources for transportation (they are much lighter), and require far less resources for recycling (plastic melts at a much lower temperature than glass, which requires vastly more energy to recycle). I think the best way to look at things is by looking at overall reusability, recyclability, and energy consumption, and to summarize these attributes to come up with a best guess at overall sustainability. The usefulness of plastic is very high, and its recyclability is high, particularly with respect to energy use and longevity (plastic can be recycled many times, whereas paper can only be recycled a few times before the fibers 'wear out').
The pump needs to be primed, and that's where governments should step in to force the issue. Very few people/businesses that are making money doing a particular activity will stop on their own accord just to 'do the right thing'. All retailers in Chicago who use plastic bags are required to take them back and see that they go to the proper place for recycling (see box below). This will only further increase the supply of recycled materials, which will lower their price, making them more attractive to prospective manufacturers. The idea isn't to get rid of plastic, but rather to use it responsibly, like all resources, which means to reduce, reuse, recycle.
Plastic works great for many things and there are already millions of tons of it around us. The best thing is to see that it gets reused and/or recycled when using it makes sense, and to not use it when it doesn't make sense. Strong, reusable grocery store bags made from recycled plastic, like my fancy Patagonia clothes, can be used for many years and then recycled into bags, or many other things, that last for many more years. This all uses far less resources than natural cloth or paper bags, and usually works better as these bags are very strong and easily washable.
Cotton, incidentally, uses about 7% of the world's agricultural land, and by far the most pesticides, around 20%. It's also grown in areas that usually require lots of irrigation, which takes lots of energy, and often depletes ground water supplies very quickly. Cotton is one of the most resource-consumptive and pesticide-dependent crops on the planet. I see lots of people in cotton clothing complain about plastic. The Patagonia Company pioneered organic cotton by funding farmers to grow organically, with naturally occurring pesticides that break down much quicker in the environment. Check out their website for some great insight into resource use, including the use of recycled plastic, and human resources. They try very hard to avoid 'sweat shop' type labor.
If you'd like to talk about it more, please feel free to call me at 608-712-1585. I'd be happy to talk about this and any resource/sustainability issues.
and the Tomato Mountain Farm Team