First, we want to thank all of our customers for working with us to move away from plastic bags. We acknowledge change is challenging; there is a reason that plastics have become so pervasive in our world. They are clear, pliable, strong, and last a long time; however they have also been shown to be hormone disrupters and a significant contributor to wildlife death, and they last way too long in our landfills, our rivers and oceans!
A little History
As you’ve noticed, we began to offer compostable bags in both our produce and bulk sections back in October 2012. Before that, we had a thinner compostable bag in produce only and we were charging 10 cents each. We have been offering these new bags at no charge although costs to us have gone up from about .02 each to .09 each for our compostable bags. We’ve made the commitment to absorb the extra cost for a time while customers get used to the new bags for their shopping. We go through about 60,000 bags per month, so you can do the math! We’ll most likely have to charge in the future to help offset the increased cost to us.
We conducted extensive research and learned a lot about plastics in general and the various “green” bags that are offered on the market today before making our decision. The bag we finally chose is the only one we could find made with non-GMO corn and with a higher than average ratio of starch to petroleum ingredients. You can follow the link to Biobags® USA below for more information about their production. The new bags are also sturdier and the same thickness as the old plastic ones. We hope to offer a compostable option for the smaller bulk bags in the future; but there are challenges around production and cost at this point that we still need to work out.
So, because nothing is as ‘perfect’ as plastic
We’ve received quite a number of customer comments; some positive but more reflecting some of the challenges of the new bags. We’d like to answer some of your questions and concerns about our compostable bulk and produce bags here, and help you use them successfully.
“The compostable bags seem to accelerate wilting especially cooking and salad greens. What can I do?”
Our Biobags® are designed with a significant amount of non-GMO cornstarch. This composition causes the bags to “breathe” more than plastic and therefore moisture escapes more quickly. This can be good as it slows down condensation and rotting that can happen in plastic bags, but greens do wilt quickly. We suggest buying the re-usable breathable plastic bags; for example The “Debbie Meyer®” Bags that may be washed many, many, times. These are superior to the both the plastic and Biobags® for storing your leafy vegetables. Find them in our produce department by the onion bin.
“I used to re-use my plastic bags, but the Biobag® are not re-usable friendly, they tear easily and are not great for storing products, I’d like to have the plastic bags and re-use them.”
Biobags® are best for transport only. They break down much faster; that is the benefit as well as the challenge. Please visit www.savesfbay.org/bay-vs-bag to see some of the problems of plastic bags that do not breakdown. While some people do re-use plastic bags, most people are still in the habit of using them and throwing them away. When we offered both Biobags® and plastic bags, about 80-90% of shoppers still grabbed the plastic. When we inventoried bag usage for 2011 we were sadly surprised to see our customers used 2.3 million plastic bags in just 12 months! This is a considerable contribution to the negative environmental impacts of plastic bags from just our store alone. As a worker owned business we voted to create the opportunity for the change in bag use that really needs to happen everywhere. You can always buy a box of Ziploc® plastic bags available at many stores and re-use them. Unfortunately plastic bags, unlike hard plastic or glass containers, cannot go into the blue Recology bins for recycling. Our Biobags® go in the green bin or can be used for a small compost pail liner. We offer a number of styles in Aisle 9, the sundries section.
“Why do some of the Biobags® smell when I open them? Is this bad?”
Some people notice a smell, others do not. “The Materbi® resin we make Biobags® from, begins as little pellets which are melted and extruded into bags. There are starches and glycerin in the Materbi®…and when it is melted to create bags there are some odors but the Biobag® is 100% food contact safe. The organic corn based bags you carry are made of a high starch grade. If we want to go to no smell we need to go to CF51L, but that is not GMO free….”,a quote from Biobag® USA our supplier.
“I’d like you to keep the plastic bags for storing my herbs and spices, they keep herbs fresh longer!”
Glass is best for freshness and flavor retention. Plastics have been shown to disrupt hormones in both humans and animals. We carry the glass spice jars for spice storage. Recycled glass vitamin bottles make great spice jars as well.
“I don’t like the compostable bags because I can’t see what’s inside.”
The cornstarch creates the opaque film. We researched bag alternatives for months! These are the only bags, manufactured from Mater Bi® film that are sourced from non-GMO corn and contain the least petroleum content of all “green” bags. Biobag® USA is hoping to come out with a clearer film bag this year, still made from non-GMO corn.
“The bags feel funny and are hard to open.”
The funny feel is also due to the cornstarch. If you have trouble opening one, just rub it between your hands a few times & it will open easily.
“Your Biobags® retain moisture and produce goes bad.”
We’re surprised at this experience as these bags breathe more and thus let moistureout (thus the wilting). Try the Debbie Meyer or Peak Fresh bags by the onion bin, they’re great!
“I’ve heard they do not break down well in compost, is this true?”
We were lucky enough to work closely with Recology, SF’s recycling and composting facility, and with SF Department of the Environment on the design and making of our compost bags, to ensure they are compatible with our recycling system. We are the only store in SF that has done this so far. Our Biobags® are both ASTM (ASTM ensures the rate of degradation is consistent with other compostable materials in the compost stream), and BPI certified. Recology responded directly when we called with your concern: “If they are the regular Biobags® and they say “compostable” and they are BPI certified, (which ours are…) then they have been tested and are verified to break down in a commercial compost facility. Sometimes “bioplastics” in general break down slower than other organic material, but our policy is if it is certified compostable we take it.” Home compost piles may not be hot enough to break down the Biobags®.
“When I took my pretzels to the park, I noticed small holes in the bag!”
While the Biobags® have proven strong for bulk items, pokey items like pretzels, seedy bagels or some pasta can make small holes through the bags, if packed tightly. Fill the compostable bags more loosely for transport and consider buying re-washable organic cotton bags-available in our bulk department. Those would work well for these types of products and be a great choice for taking pretzels to the picnic or soccer game!
Thanks for reading. Keep in touch and we hope to continue sharing ecology-related info on our website in the future.
Please feel welcome to contact Rainbow’s ecology committee with questions, ideas, concerns at: [email protected]
And, you can visit these websites for further information on plastics:
Look for Berkeley Ecology Center handouts on storing fruits and vegetables in our produce section!!!