‘Shop Naked': Eye-Catching Plea From Vermont Market

A Vermont store launched a new initiative this week aimed at cutting down on waste from plastic bags, and it includes an eye-catching plea to customers: "shop naked."

"Shop naked," to the Woodstock Farmers' Market, means to let fruits and veggies traditionally placed in lightweight produce bags to instead be carted around the store with no bag, to cut down on plastic.

"We would love to get rid of these as much as possible," said Amelia Rappaport, the market's co-owner, referring to the flimsy produce bags customers use to carry lemons, onions and other fruits and vegetables in their carts. "It's not always easiest to do the right thing, but you still have to do it."

"That was pretty funny over there," shopper Sarah Dayton said of the sign.

While some communities, like Cambridge, Massachusetts, have barred stores from handing out the plastic shopping bags supplied for many years at check-out registers from stores, Statehouse proposals for statewide bans in Vermont have thus far failed to gain traction.

Still, the Woodstock Farmers' Market voluntarily took matters into its own hands, ditching its old two-handled plastic shopping bags all together. The store now makes paper bags available for ten cents.

Rappaport noted that some customers have griped, but learning that dime goes to the Woodstock Community Food Shelf and not into the owner's pocket has seemed to have quieted complaints, she said.

A statement on the website of the Woodstock Farmers' Market said, "It's true that paper bags are easy to recycle, but they have a high environmental cost to manufacture. This includes the release of heavy metals and greenhouse gasses into the environment."

In another aspect of the new policy, if shoppers forget to bring a reusable tote, in small-town Vermont style, there's a "lending library" for bags. Thursday, shopper Travis Cole took one another shopper donated.

"Last time I was in here, Monday, I paid whatever it was they charged me for a bag," Cole recalled. "Getting one free is obviously better. And I'll stick it back in my car. Next time I come in, I'll bring it back in with me."

Rappaport said she is looking for donations of reusable shopping bags to stock the lending library.

And when it comes to selling reusable bags with the business's name on them, the Woodstock Farmer's Market has promised not to profit off them. The market told necn it is selling its totes at cost.

It will likely be a harder sell to convince shoppers to skip placing lemons or limes in those sometimes hard-to-open lightweight produce bags that customers tear off a large wheel of bags. While those produce bags are recyclable, they are not compatible with the system Woodstock uses for recycling, Rappaport said.

"We see people put yellow peppers in one bag, red peppers in another," Rappaport said of the produce bags. "They don't have to be. They don't have to be in plastic bags at all."

There are $.99 reusable replacements for the produce bags now available, too, for shoppers not quite ready to have their produce go "naked" in their carts. The reusable ones, which are a fine mesh, can double as a strainer to wash produce in when customers get home to their sinks, Rappaport said.

Rappaport acknowledged there is a business benefit to the new policy, but said that's not why the decision was made.

"It helps us with our supply costs, in general, if we cut back on other bags," she told necn. "But really, the impetus was to stop with the madness of single use bags."

Last year, Woodstock Farmers' Market used a total of 146,800 individual shopping bags at check-out, the business said.

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