Some quick things:

  • Want to receive this list via email each week? Sign up here(We’re coming into the time of year when there may be limited quantity goodies offered only to newsletter subscribers. Consider yourself warned.)
  • BREAD IS BACK. (But not baguettes.) Fresh McGrath’s loaves available all three days this week, and a stash of frozen Talking Breads as well.
  • PASTURED EGG SALE continues — Village Acres eggs are Buy One Get One 25% off!
  • And the BUTTER BLOWOUT continues, too — Apple Valley Creamery’s grass-fed butter is on sale for $7/tub (usually $8.50).
  • New products this week: From Village Acres farm, a variety of lamb cuts (while supplies last); on the produce table KALE (green curly and lacinato), fresh dill, and gorgeous bunches of spinach.

Scroll down for the full list of what we’ll have this week! (It’s a long one this week.)

Spaghetti with eggs, loads of parsley, and a heap of Royer Mountain.
Nothing to do with what I’ve written, but everything to do with an easy dinner.

Plastic bags are something we think and talk a lot about at Radish & Rye. Beginning in the earliest days of our adventure and continuing even now (today included), I have sometimes spent hours at a stretch reading about alternative packaging and carrying materials, thinking about how we use bags, how our customers use bags, how those bags are disposed of, and where we might be able to do better.

In a December press release announcing their intention to eliminate 1 million pounds of single-use plastic, Trader Joe’s summed up some of their thinking in a way that, as a grocery nerd, really resonated with me:

A fundamental focus of sustainability is maintaining product integrity and preventing food waste. We strive to balance the key role packaging plays in this effort with the overall impact packaging has on the ecosystem, as we approach making any changes. We are also aware that the realistic opportunities for recycling materials, along with differing understandings of what is the “best choice” for sustainability, makes this work complex.

Complex, indeed.

We use plastic to protect foods from moisture loss and environmental contaminants. We use plastic to merchandise food, so that you the customer can verify the good quality of what you’re buying before you get it home. We use plastic to pack up customer purchases, so you don’t drop your eggs on the sidewalk, or have to juggle seven apples while trying not to drop your eggs on the sidewalk.

But where did those plastic bags come from? What happens to them when we’re done with them?

The food packaging bags are made from oil. They’re recyclable, but only if they’re clean and dry (probably not, if they’ve been used to package food), and only in special receptacles, like those outside many chain grocery stores. There’s not a huge demand for the recycled film. But there also aren’t many good alternatives to using them in the first place that wouldn’t either dramatically increase food waste, energy and transportation costs, labor costs, packaging costs, or any or all of the above. We’re pretty resigned to using plastics to store food, though we continue to evaluate other options. When we’re done with the big bags we use for storing backstock, many of them wind up as trash can and compost bin liners. From there, they’re either already in the trash, or they’re far too dirty to be recycled, and since we live in Harrisburg City, they go to the incinerator. It is what it is.

Grocery bags, though – that’s where it feels like we can and must change something. We hear about the nightmare of plastic in the Pacific Ocean; we see, even here, far too many bags wafting down the street. We know there are alternatives available, and perhaps because it feels like it’s a little more within our control to do something, that’s what the major public focus is on. It’s where action is happening, as an increasing number of municipalities and states ban single-use bags. Many stores are now moving in that direction, too, even without being legally required to.

It’s something we’ve considered – eliminating single-use plastic grocery bags – and something we’ve ruled against every time we’ve studied it. For us, to be honest, it’s mostly been about economics. The bags we currently offer are a little more expensive than the standard grocery bags – probably because they’re claiming to be biodegradable, which I feel fairly certain is a lie I feel pretty guilty about perpetuating by using them, but they’re also a little stronger than the standard grocery bags, so we can use fewer of them, so we just keep doing it…but anyway – they’re more expensive than normal bags, but far less expensive than the alternatives. And what alternatives are there?

Well…Maybe you’ve seen this in the news recently — last year, the government of Denmark conducted a study of the environmental impact of “carrier bags”. They evaluated a whole slew of different kinds of bags, looking at every environmental issue except litter. That is, they looked at a whole slew of factors involved in the production of various kinds of bags, and evaluated the environmental impact those factors had. They summarized their data into two numbers per bag – first, the number of times a given type of bag would need to be reused before it was less impactful on climate change than single-use plastic, and second, the number of times that type of bag would need to be reused before it was less impactful on all environmental factors than single-use plastic.

Spoiler alert: the results are depressing.

So, the very first thing we consider when we think about eliminating plastic grocery bags is moving to paper. Good paper bags are like eight or ten times more expensive, but the cost per bag still isn’t huge, so it could be workable. But you know what? While an unbleached paper bag has only the effect of a single plastic bag on climate change, it has to be reused 43 times before its total environmental impact is favorable. FORTY THREE TIMES. Okay, okay, let’s think about those awesome Trader Joe’s paper bags, the big sturdy ones with the nice handles. So, you can fit into one of those bags at least twice as much stuff as you can into a normal plastic grocery bag – maybe even three times. So let’s say that means you actually only need to use that bag on fourteen occasions before it’s effectively replaced 43 plastic bags. Not so bad. Except, how often do you think that happens?

To be clear – I’m sure it does happen, but I think even if I’m trying really hard, I’m lucky if I can get a handful of uses out of a paper bag before it gets wet or torn or just worn out, and it’s no good for my purposes anymore (and if it’s got food residue on it, it can’t be recycled at that point, either).

It pretty much gets worse from there – a cotton tote bag, they say, needs to be used 52 times before it balances out on climate change factors, and 7,100 times to balance out on all environmental factors.

Here’s an example for you: When I was 10 or 11 years old, we did a school fundraiser where we made denim tote bags with thick web handles, and we had the school’s logo screenprinted on them. In those days, I think we were trying to save the trees, not the ocean. So, my mom has been faithfully using those bags consistently for the past 27 years. (If you’ve been wondering how old I am, now you know-ish.) So, let’s say she’s been using every single one of those bags every week once a week for 27 years, and that each use replaces three plastic bags. Fifty-two times twenty-seven times three. That’s 4,212 plastic bags saved. Amazing! And at that rate she only has to use those bags for another 18 years for them to break even! Eek.

For what it’s worth, the tote bags we’ve been selling for the past few years are 85% recycled cotton. The study offers no analysis of how many times they’d need to be used to break even on all factors, but I feel fairly certain that at the very least the handles will need to be reinforced if they’re going to be make it that far.

Okay. So where does that leave us?

Well, it leaves Radish & Rye (or us people who make up Radish & Rye) feeling like since it’s unlikely that any alternative bag we can offer for free or for a reasonable surcharge is going to be used enough times to really make up for its impact, we can choose to offer no bags, or stick with the plastic (that may or may not be biodegradable). Of course if you already have a reusable bag, the best thing to do is use it! But we also think there’s a real food preservation value in having bags available for those who want them – no smashed eggs on the sidewalk, please, and no need to learn to juggle – so we’ll keep offering plastic bags, and we’ll hope and trust that you’ll dispose of them responsibly, since that, not the manufacturing, is the real problem with plastic bags.

But this thing about the number of times a reusable bag has to be reused really got us thinking about all the reusable bags we have lying around not being reused. Promotional bags, mostly, from events and conferences or non-profits; mostly bags we didn’t pay for, and don’t use. Actually, we don’t have too many of those anymore, because a few months ago we washed them all, packed them up, and brought them over to the market, where we offered them to anyone who didn’t have a bag. We’ve now pared down to a more reasonable selection of bags we enjoy using, the ones we chose ourselves, have a logo we like on them (ahem, ahem), are comfortable to carry or can pack up into a purse so we’re never without them (no, I’m not that good). No more extraneous bags in our house!

But what about yours?

We’re not eliminating plastic bags from Radish & Rye, but what we are doing is, starting this week, we’ll have two bins – a Take a Bag bin, and a Leave a Bag bin. Every week, we’ll wash the contents of the Leave a Bag bin, and the next week those bags will appear in the Take a Bag bin. If you’ve forgotten your reusable bag and don’t want the plastic*, grab yourself a Take a Bag and help it fulfill its life’s purpose. When you’re done, keep using it or bring it back – up to you.

Since Dusty and I have already eliminated most of our extra bag stash, this week there likely won’t be anything in the Take a Bag bin – so no forgetting your bags on purpose! Hopefully by next week, that’ll change. I don’t actually know if this will work – but I’m looking forward to finding out!

Happy Earth Day!

-Julia

*Another recent study found that in towns with plastic bag bans, purchases of small trash can liners increased by 120%. Those can liners are thicker (more plastic) than the grocery bags. No shame if you want a plastic bag.

P.S. The Danish study also found that the best way to dispose of plastic bags (and almost everything, apparently) is to use it as a trash can liner, and then have it incinerated. Good news for Harrisburg residents!

P.P.S. Some links: NPR’s Planet Money did a summary, and here’s the Danish study.

P.P.P.S. When the supply of cotton totes we have in-stock now is nearing its end, I intend to look into reusable options that are more likely to be able to be used enough times in their lifespan to make their manufacture worthwhile. Let me know if you know something!


Produce

Braising & Salad Greens

  • Bok Choy
  • Spinach
  • Baby Spinach
  • Mesclun Mix
  • Lettuce Mix
  • Pea Shoots
  • Little Gem Romaine

Fruit

  • Fuji Apples
  • Granny Smith Apples

Herbs

  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Parsley

Mushrooms

  • Cremini
  • White
  • Shiitake
  • Oyster

Onions & Garlic

  • Shallots
  • Scallions

Potatoes

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Japanese Sweet Potatoes

Roots

  • Red & Pink Radishes
  • Red Beets
  • Carrots
  • Daikon Radishes
  • Purple Top Turnips

Bread

McGrath’s Brick Oven Bakehouse (available fresh every day)

  • McGrath’s Original
  • Sesame Original
  • Irish Oatmeal Pan Bread
  • Jalapeno Cheddar
  • Cranberry Pecan
  • Three Seed
  • Baguettes (SOLD OUT)
Talking Breads (available frozen only)

  • Batard
  • Miche