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Bags, bags, everywhere

Tips for reducing plastic at the produce stand
by Bernadette Simpson

How many of us remembered to carry our reusable bags this past week? It takes practice, doesn’t it? Maybe you still need to find or purchase some bags. Maybe you have bags to use but still need to find a way to remember to bring them with you to the store. Don’t give up! And give yourself a high five if you remembered, even once, to REFUSE a disposable plastic bag.

We are offered plastic bags at many other places besides the supermarkets, so we have to remember to bring reusable bags not only to the grocery store but also, for example, to the green grocer, where most of us do our shopping for fruits and vegetables. And this is where A LOT of plastic bags are used here in Egypt, especially when customers use a different plastic bag for each veggie.

Most of us in Dahab select and bag the veggies ourselves so there is no battle involved with the grocer in having to REFUSE the plastic bags. We just have to bring our own and not reach automatically for the plastic bags hanging on the wall.

TIP: If you have plastic bags at home or acquire new plastic bags, you can REUSE them. Shake or rinse them out and bring them back to the green grocer with you next time.

TIP: If you forget your reusable bags, try to use fewer plastic bags by using a single bag for as many vegetables as you can. It’s okay to put your tomatoes and cucumbers in the same bag. The eggplant won’t mind riding along with the oranges. If there’s still room in your bag, go ahead and put the next veggie on top. We always put the heavier fruits and veggies in our bag first so they are on the bottom and not squashing anything underneath.

People have asked me how I deal with weighing the fruits and veggies. To be honest, when we first started using our cotton bags, we would put the veggies in the bag before we weighed them and I did not mind the extra weight being added to the total. What’s an extra 50 grams when we’re paying only LE 3 for a kilo of tomatoes? Especially if you’re weighing on a non-digital scale that doesn’t give you an exact weight anyway.

Nowadays, more of our green grocers do have digital scales so you can measure a more precise amount. So now, my hubby (who usually selects and weighs our veggies since he’s the one who cooks) carries the produce in his hands to the scale, weighs it, and then puts them in the cotton bag. (My job, if I’m with him, is to stand there with the bag!) If this is too difficult (which it definitely can be if you are buying large quantities), then you have two choices: weigh the veggies with the bag and don’t worry about paying for the added grams OR weigh your bag when it’s empty and then subtract this from the total weight of the bag and veggies. So if your bag weighs 50 grams and you want to purchase a half-kilo of cucumbers, fill the bag with cucumbers until the total weight is 550 grams. Then simply report to the grocer that you have a ½ kilo of cucumbers.

TIP: When reporting to the green grocer what you have bagged, be prepared to show him what is in your cotton bags, especially if you’ve managed to put more than one item in a bag. Since the cotton bags aren’t see-through like the plastic, sometimes the green grocer wants to check that what you are telling him is what is actually in the bag. Don’t be offended. Just open your bag so he can peek inside.

TIP: Take your cotton bags to a green grocer or deli that has digital scales. Ask to weigh your bag and then write directly on the bag, in permanent marker, how much the bag weighs. That way you won’t forget and you won’t have to weigh it each time. This is especially useful if you have many reusable bags, all of different sizes and weights. And something I need to remember to do with my own variety of cotton bags!

We shop mostly in and around El-Souq El-Tujari in Asalah and have never encountered a grocer who had problems with us using our own cotton bags. Like with supermarkets, if you visit the same green grocer frequently enough, he’ll get to know you and your plastic-free habits.

Do you already use cotton or reusable bags for your fruits and veggies? If so, have you ever shopped somewhere that had a problem with it? What tips do you have for other people wanting to switch to cotton bags for produce? Where else do you use your cotton bags for shopping?

Refuse ~ Reduce ~ Reuse ~ Recycle

Bernadette Simpson is the author of the field guide Wandering through Wadis: A nature-lover’s guide to the flora of South Sinai and An ABC Escapade through Egypt. To learn more about her campaign to reduce disposable plastic, visit Don’t Mess with Dahab at:

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