Thursday, April 26, 2018

Trends converge to make eco-friendly flea markets even greener

The Uhuru Flea Market’s 2010 Earth Day events included bands and speakers.

Consumer attitudes toward the environment are changing, and flea market vendors and organizers, already among the greener retailers in America, are changing along with them. Cree McCree, a flea market co-founder and the author of Flea Market America, says flea markets are positioned to take advantage of the trend.

“Mainstream consumers are actually paying attention to things like packaging,” she says. “Ordinary people are recycling their household waste. I think there is a greater understanding of recycling and greenness in general in the culture, and people in flea markets are capitalizing on that.”

Of course, selling second-hand items has always been a flea market staple. According to Walt Borton, co-owner of the Santa Fe Traditional Flea, a flea market is a natural part of the environmental movement because buying antique and used material is naturally a recycling effort.

“If you buy a table and chairs at Ikea,” says Borton, “you put real pressure on the inventory system, on the transportation system, and on the manufacturing system. If you buy a used or antique dining room set at a flea market or antique show, you’re not putting pressure on anything. You can acquire good design and quality construction at an affordable price while at the same time protecting the environment by keeping existing material at work.”

McCree agrees. “Recycling used goods is inherently green,” she says. “You’re not producing something new to be put into a landfill.”

The Uhuru Flea Market is a monthly flea market with an annual festival. “For the Earth Day fest we had a stage and bands and speakers about sustainability, so it was a festival in addition to a flea market on April 17,” says volunteer coordinator Harris Daniels. “But every month the proceeds of the fees the vendors pay goes to a program called the African Village Survival Initiative, which is a green Black-community-led program that we support.”

“We always consider it to be a green flea market,” says Daniels, “because it offers recycled and reused products and materials that people don’t want to throw out and add to landfills.” But it isn’t just second-hand products that make the market green. “People sell green cleaners and new products like that. And we have people who hand-craft their products.”

But flea market shoppers remain bargain hunters above all, experts caution. Shae Singer, organizer of the new Aspen Eco Fest, agrees that green flea market customers are still savvy shoppers. She advises vendors, “Keep your prices reasonable. Even if your products are remade, reused, or locally grown, people will still shop for dollar value.”

“Products, even green products, have to be priced to appeal to bargain hunters,” says Cree McCree “People are looking for low price points at flea markets.”

Even then, selling earth-friendly products at low prices is not enough. It is also important for an environmentally sensitive market to keep its operations as green as its merchandise. “We’re working on a water catchment system,” says Bolten of the Santa Fe Traditional Flea. “It’s kind of hard with tents, but with some bamboo guttering in place we can actually harvest some rain, which is scarce out here.”

“Recycling should be available on the market premesis,” advises McCree. “Have certain bins specified for bottles or cans, however it is done in the local area.” She suggests that local recyclers can set up bins or drop off points for items like used computers, batteries, and cell phones. “A flea market could very easily set up a center like that.”

Michael Grebosz, assistant to the city manager of DeLand, Fla., emphasized the recycling efforts the city pursued at its Green Street Fair. “If you don’t do that, I don’t think it’s going to be a success. Along with the recycling at the event, we made sure that vendors did not use plastic containers. You look like a hypocrite if you don’t do it that way.”

Bolten has a similar policy at his Santa Fe market. “We’ve got recycling bins around the market. I’m insisting that our food vendors use recyclable plates and forks. We’ve all got to be responsible in every possible way.”

For the Uhuru Flea Market, the eco-friendly aspects of the market include vendor screening. “We keep the vending from within the community. It’s a community flea market, so people aren’t driving hours and hours and spending lots of gas and wasting natural resources to get to the flea market. It’s very much a West Philly flea market.”

Although the Uhuru Flea Market has had very successful Earth Day events, smaller markets may want to be wary of that date. “Don’t do your event around Earth Day,” says Michael Grebosz. “Everybody else is doing an Earth Day event. All your target audience and a lot of your vendors will be committed in other places.”

DeLand, Fla., Green Street Fair

On-site recycling was prominently featured at the 2010 DeLand, Fla., Green Street Fair.

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