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Park Slope Food Co-Op Members at Odds Over Plastic Bag 'Phaseout'

By Leslie Albrecht | June 24, 2013 7:17am | Updated on June 24, 2013 9:09am
 Some Coop members want the grocery store to stop providing plastic bags for produce and bulk items.
Park Slope Food Coop Management Balks at Proposed Plastic Bag "Phaseout"
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PARK SLOPE — Even the aggressively progressive Park Slope Food Co-op has its limits.

Managers at the bastion of locally-sourced political correctness have come out against a proposal to stop providing free plastic bags for the store's produce and bulk food items.

The Food Co-op banned plastic shopping bags in 2007, but managers say ridding the store of plastic roll bags that hold items like kale leaves and lentils is a step too far.

"Like most things, it's a lot more complex than it appears on the surface," said Jessica Robinson, a general coordinator at the organic emporium. "If this proposal were to pass, it would make it very challenging for us to do business."

Forgoing the bags could be unsanitary, and could make it harder for the Co-op to provide the "minimally processed" food — which is often sold without packaging — that its members have come to expect, Robinson said.

Putting those foods in bags made of alternative material like muslin could make the Co-op's long checkout lines even slower because checkers wouldn't be able to quickly see what's inside.

And non-plastic bags are more expensive. Using them could result in higher prices for Co-op members, managers said in a detailed presentation of their position.

Robinson noted that when the Co-op banned plastic shopping bags in 2007, only about 27 percent of members said they used the bags, while 78 percent of the Coop's 16,000 members said they use the plastic "roll" bags.

But members of the Co-op's environmental committee, which is proposing the plastic roll bag "phaseout" — they insist it's not a ban because shoppers are welcome to reuse old bags — said the sacks violate the Coop's environmental policy.

Among other reasons, they argue that using the plastic roll bags puts money in the pockets of oil and chemical companies like British Petroleum and Dow Chemical, "some of the biggest polluters in the world." 

They also argue that the bags are made using natural gas, which is at odds with the Co-op's anti-fracking stance.

"Plastic is not part of the natural life cycle," the committee contends on its website. "Every piece of plastic ever made still exists today and will forever!"

The environmental committee said it has the support of 600 Co-op members. The issue was up for a vote at the Co-op's general membership meeting last month, but so many people showed up that the audience couldn't fit into the auditorium at M.S. 51.

The vote has been postponed until Co-op leaders can find a venue big enough to hold a sizeable crowd, Robinson said.

It's not the only plastic-themed discussion happening in Park Slope. On June 24, environmentalists will gather to strategize on how to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags.

Park Slope City Councilman Brad Lander will speak at the public forum about anti-bag legislation he plans to introduce.

"Single-use plastic bags pollute our environment, soak up our tax dollars to pay for disposal, and even damage our recycling and wastewater treatment plants," Lander said in an email to constituents.

"It’s time for New York to follow the lead that other big cities have taken to reduce the use of polluting plastic bags."

A similar idea was floated five years ago, but failed. But Mark Dunlea of the Brooklyn Green Party, one of the event's co-sponsors, said the landscape has shifted since then. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned Styrofoam and recently introduced a composting program, and the city's recycling director recently said New York "pays $10 million annually to send 100,000 tons of plastic bags" to landfills out of state.

Dunlea said he's hopeful momentum is building to rid the city of the bags. "It just seems to be one of those issues that strikes a chord with a lot of people," Dunlea said.

The "No Plastic Bag" forum will be held Monday, June 24 at Greenwood Baptist Church, 461 Sixth St., 7 p.m.