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Park Slope Food Coop vs. the plastic menace

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First they came for the plastic bags. Now they are coming for the other plastic bags.

A proposal to banish plastic produce bags — the kind used by patrons to store cucumbers and apples while they shop — from the Park Slope Food Co-op is tearing the famously progressive, shopper-run grocery store apart.

Co-op bean counters are at odds with the store’s environmental committee (yes, it has one, as all businesses should), which is lobbying to stop freely offering the more than 7,000 plastic roll bags the store’s customers use a day, and which end up in landfills.

“This proposal is a good step toward lightening our plastic footprint,” said Jenna Spevack, an environmental committee member who added that patrons would be free to bring their own plastic produce bags and reuse them. “The goal is to encourage reuse, and many members have started to carry a few bags in their purse or backpack.”

But other members say nixing the widely used plastic bags for a pricier non-plastic alternative will cost members more money, make it harder for customers to shop, and could present a hygienic issue for those who choose to protect their food with the plastic bags for sanitary reasons, according to a thorough argument against the proposal post on the grocery store’s website.

The co-op successfully banned plastic shopping bags from the store in 2008, but the managers say that stripping the store of the plastic roll bags used to carry items like organic bunched kale and bulk grains would be detrimental for business and may even push some members to quit the 40-year-old co-op.

“Operationa­lly it will be disruptive and I think it would upset people,” said Anne Herpel, a manager at the store. “It would have greater unintended consequenc­es.”

She claimed that removing the plastic roll bags will likely change shoppers’ habits and could even force them to switch to pricier pre-packaged items instead of the loose, locally-grown fare if they forget to bring a reusable bag and opt to not buy a cotton muslin drawstring bag for $1.25 at the co-op.

Still, the environmental committee, which pushed to have a charge for the roll bags included in the 2008 ban of plastic shopping bags, said that the free distribution of the plastic roll bags violates the co-op’s environmental policy and mission statement, according to a slide show detailing the proposal.

The bags are made from cheap, nonrenewable natural gas, which encourages to the controversial practice of fracking, and goes against the co-op’s stance against fracking, according to the environmental committee.

The proposal to get rid of the plastic roll bags was originally up for a vote by membership at a meeting of the co-op in May, but the vote was postponed because the several hundred members that showed up could not all fit in the auditorium at Fifth Avenue’s MS 51.

The vote will be rescheduled for the fall once the co-op secures a larger meeting space, said Herpel.

Until then, some members of the grocery store are hoping that the proposal does not go through.

“I would not be happy,” sxaid frequent shopper Beth Kleber, who uses the plastic bags to carry items like vegetables and cilantro. “I understand their motives and that their hearts are in the right place, but I just don’t agree with going cold turkey like that.”

The co-op’s roll-bag strife isn’t the only plastic bag controversy going on in the Slope.

Last month, the neighborhood reasserted its role in the vanguard of the anti-plastic-shopping-bag movement when an environmental-advocacy coalition involving Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) rallied to demand that the city ban the ubiquitous shopping paraphernalia.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.
Updated 10:12 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
I've used one of those produce bags about once in the last 3 or 4 years. They're not necessary. Sanitary reasons? I recommend you wash your produce before you eat it anyway.
July 17, 2013, 5:28 am
diehipster from Electrocuting Ethans says:
What about the plastic in the "LOOK AT MEEEEE" thick frame glasses every follow-the-leader hipster yupster sheep douche wears? Or their plastic Mac books? I guess there are exceptions when you are a privileged nasally culture vulture from Flyoverlandia, USA whose Mommy never told them no.
July 17, 2013, 6:55 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
Jerome, the difference is that glasses get worn over and over and over, not get used once before being thrown in a landfill. It does not take that much intelligence to figure that out. Please try thinking before you type. Your writing is habitually lazy, but now you're just being stupid too.
July 17, 2013, 8:16 am
Elvis from Nawcostella says:
Dude. Will you shut the —— up? Give it a rest. Jesus.
July 17, 2013, 10:36 am
Sloper says:
People reusing fabric bags over and over without washing them is a sanitary issue. I use very few of the plastic roll bags, but the times that I use one, I'm very glad to have them.
July 17, 2013, 12:48 pm
Adamben from Bedstuy says:
I actually clean my fabric bags; it's not rocket science.
July 17, 2013, 2 pm
Richard Longmeadow from Park Slope says:
Zinged Jerome on that one hehehe.

Plastic or no plastic, I won't shop at the antisemitic food coop. I'm ashamed it's even in my neighborhood in the first place.
July 17, 2013, 4:01 pm
Bruce from Brooklyn says:
Very good point Richard. It always amazes me that these people think that what they do in their little food coop will have any effect on the world. Nothing you do will either help or hurt the environment. Nobody knows they exist except a very small group here in Brooklyn. Nobody cares what you do and most people won't change what they do because of you. Maybe you could see how many heads you can get into one of your plastic bags vs. fabric? Or you can have your housekeepers carry home your produce in their bunched up dresses? The first time I have looked at this paper in months. Nothing has changed. You guys still like to try to take stories that are not newsworthy into something newsworthy.
July 18, 2013, 7:48 am
ty from pps says:
Wow, Bruce... you're a sad sack. Nothing a small group of people do can ever change anything. Wow!
July 18, 2013, 8:37 am
Tim J from Fort Greeney says:
Bruce is actually right. As long as plastic bags are actually still made, no little shop banning them will change anything. Also, it's not newsworthy. Who cares what that coop does. It's a bunch of loons thinking they matter. They don't.
July 18, 2013, 9:18 am
ty from pps says:
So... as long as X exists, Y can never take over a share of the marketplace?! What?!

People don't ever change their behavior when they discover and alternative?

Before reading this article, I never knew these fabric bags existed and the concept never entered my mind. However, I do take an effort to reduce my wasteful use. If I buy two tomatoes, I don't take a bag -- why do you need a bag? But if i buy green beans or 6 tomatoes, I need a bag.

I may experiment with cloth bags... that's how this stuff works.

Will produce bags be banned in stores (other than maybe the PS Co-op)? No. But more folks may choose the alternative. After some time, a grocery store that buys 10,000 rolls of produce bags per year may end up only buying 8,000 rolls. That's a positive thing.

I don't particularly care about the co-op either, but to dismiss possible change like this is frankly stupid.
July 18, 2013, 11:19 am
TIS from USA says:
I love the fact that everyone is against single use T-sacks and produce bags. They are acutally multi-use products, but people seem to forget this fact. People seem to forget that the reason plastic has issues is because people litter and are too lazy to either recycle or dispose of plastic properly.

It is always easier to demonize and ban something than to educate people on doing what is correct.

If the co-op community wants to make a difference they should spend their time educating themselves and their members on the benefits of these types of items and how to use them correctly, reuse them correctly and recycle them correctly.

People who litter, people who do not recycle, people who not reuse all have the biggest negative effect on this planet.
July 18, 2013, 2:05 pm
the Chooch from your hipsterized world says:
The Coop is far from "some little store" with no effect on anything. The place is a national leader in the politics and ecology of food production. It's the oldest food coop in the country, with more than 16,000 members. Dozens of local farms in the northeast supply the Coop, some of them exclusively. The Coop has spearheaded countless reforms in food production, from fair trade to the organic movement to the move toward local sourcing. Again, you force-fed mooks are simply out to lunch.

Yes, it's true that there is a misguided contingent at the Coop that tried to boycott products from Israel. The initiative got nowhere, it didn't even get to a membership referendum. And those people are not "anti-Semitic," they're just wrong.
July 18, 2013, 7:03 pm
Fred from Flatbush says:
Simply is the co-op members vote to get rid of the bags then so be it. They get a deal on food anyway, so what if they have to buy fabric bags.

I was a member there in the 90's (before they took over the rug place) and I have to say that aside from the fact that there are a lot of annoying whack o's there, they have a great selection and awesome prices (at least they did 20 years ago).

Is it still easy to not actually do the monthly shifts these days? I used to sign in then split.
July 18, 2013, 8:09 pm
Calvin from CT says:
There is not a "perfect" bag out there; otherwise everyone would be using it. Reusable cotton/canvas bags are fine, however keep in mind that at some point they end up in the landfill. 1 million of these bags, or the 99 cent'ers found in traditional grocery stores, creates over 94 tons of waste. By the way, the "cloth" 99 cent'ers are made from Non-Woven Polypropylene.....which is plastic. The material is recyclable, however no recycler wants the stuff because it's basically worthless. On the other hand, traditional plastic has value and has an existing recycling system. It's called a bin at the front of just about every grocery store chain in the country. It's not difficult to recycle the bags when you walk right by the bin on the way into the store.
July 19, 2013, 9:53 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Everything about this place is terrible.
July 19, 2013, 4:03 pm
Craig from West Chester says:
There are bio-degradable plastic bags made from renewable resources like corn and algae. See the company Cereplast, Ticker CERP for an example. I've used similar bags at J&J cafeteria's. These bags are now as cheap as the old style plastic bags.
Sept. 11, 2013, 3:37 pm

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