The friendly farmers' market vibe has emboldened us to try returning packaging to sellers. When the seller is also the grower and the packager, they are more likely to take their packaging back for reuse.
So far we have had success with returning egg cartons, red string bags from mandarins and cherry tomatoes, and plastic strawberry punnets. Tyson's parents also return tubs that home-made dog food comes in and glass bottles from super creamy milk.
Initial Time: It adds about 5 minutes to a shopping trip to locate sellers and return their packaging (although if we forget which grower we purchased from the previous week it can take longer as we wander around the markets matching strawberry punnets to stall displays). There is also a minimal time involved in washing some items.
Initial Cost: zero
Ongoing time or cost commitment: The ongoing time and cost is as per 'initial...' above.It feels like the biggest commitment is finding somewhere in our home to store egg cartons, strawberry punnets and string bags until our next market trip.
Impact: By my estimates we are keeping about 30-40 metres of red string bag per year out of landfill. Egg cartons and strawberry punnets we would recycle through our council bin pickup, but we are looking at 30-40 of each in a year and there are all sort of costs (human time, truck fuel, excess or soiled 'recycling' that gets wasted, recycling infrastructure) that go with a city-wide recycling system. Taking it back to where it came from makes for a much simpler equation.
We have on our bench two strawberry punnets bought from our local growers' cooperative rather than the markets. I haven't yet put them in the recycling bin because I am considering whether to take them back to the shop. They might laugh at me, but I think the amount of packaging used in our culture is appalling and until we start challenging it nothing will change. What if everyone took their rubbish back to where it came from rather than putting it into a bin... whole parcels of plastic, staples and wire ties mailed back to toy manufacturers after a kids' birthday party...bags of confectionery wrappers, bread packets, cellophane from around toilet paper, and glossy cardboard boxes deposited at the checkout on your next visit to the supermarket... and my two strawberry punnets returning home to the growers market.
Several weeks ago I told Eva we were going shopping for gumboots because the ones she has were not high enough to withstand jumping in puddles. A little later when I was ready to leave she was at the door with her gumboots in hand and told me she was taking them back to the shop to get new ones. I thought: Yes! That is how it should be! Anyone producing 'disposable' items should be responsible for where those items go when they are ready for disposal.