Ban the Use of Plastic Packaging for Organic Produce


Like putting soy sauce in kimchi or casting Mickey Rooney to play an Asian, plastic packaging for organic produce makes zero sense. Currently organic consumers are often forced to buy more plastics than if they purchased conventional produce, including polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, ethylene vinyl acetate, polyethylene terephthalate, nylon, and polyester, all used to produce meshes, bags, hard shells, and more. Many of these materials can only be downcycled or have very low recycling rates (films and polystyrene fall in the latter category). This contributes to the accumulation of plastics in the environment, adversely affecting wildlife, habitat, and humans. Further, metals dispersed for the sake of organic produce packaging may never be recovered. This places those striving for an organic, zero waste lifestyle in a Catch-22. Do we buy produce grown according to our values and support environmental degradation / unnecessary petroleum dependence or choose industrially farmed, petrochemically derived, pesticide laden fruits and vegetables?

Amazing research and design studio Studio Habeas Corpus submitted a petition asking the USDA's National Organic Standards Board to phase out plastics on organics and support the adoption of truly compostable, harmless, environmentally benign materials- none of this biodegradable or recycled plastic garbage. Please sign and share it! The topic of packaging substances was removed from the last National Organic Standards Board meeting due to administrative delays, and if they don't discuss it this Fall 2016, risks being pushed back to next spring. Our goal is 100,000 signatures. Click here to sign and here to learn more on Treehugger.

*Not saying organic is necessarily better or that you have to buy organic, especially as defined by the USDA. I buy things from producers who aren't certified organic but use organic methods. I just think packaging items like oranges, which have their own natural protective barrier, in a plastic shell is stupid. For a discussion of ableism and zero waste, click here.
Paris to Go

19 comments:

  1. Thanks for talking about this important topic.

    In my small local whole food shop no produce is packaged in plastic, in my local supermarket most is. More people need to ask for plastic free produce and leave the packaging in the supermarket. Here in Germany organic cucumbers are often packaged in plastic while conventional ones are not, it's a weird word we are living in.

    The crazy thing is that some people actually think that plastic will help with keeping vegetables and fruits fresh, just last week I had a discussion about that with a stranger and I wonder how people get these ideas.

    Sabrina
    http://gruengruenblog.blogspot.de

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    1. In my supermarket (Germany) they told me it's because people would otherwise buy organic and pretend it's non-organic at the checkout. The packaging is supposed to prevent that. That said since recently REWE puts only a small ring of tight plastic around the cucumbers instead of packing the entire thing.

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    2. This is an interesting point- a few dishonest people ruin it for everybody. Sometimes it's easy to tell the difference between organic and conventional but not all the time... I wonder what a solution (barring edible rfid chips) would be. Yes, I think people suppose it will keep produce fresh, clean, it's more hygienic, etc... I think it's marketing maybe?

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  2. Thank you so much for this beautiful article Ariana. To expand your point about why the petition is centered on Organic Produce: the organic industry and the (not necessarily exclusively) organic consumer seem to us THE place to pioneer this material change and advocate for zerowaste. As health-pollution-environment minded persons, we see very obviously that a natural lifestyle packaged in plastics is absurd and have the arguments to speak up loud and clear to fight against it. On the long term of course, we hope that once zerowaste, low-tech packaging techniques & philosophy are implemented in the field of organics, they will be generalized to ALL produce. Thank you to all your readers for any support they can provide! + +

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    1. Ah thank you for clarifying! And thank you for doing all this! You are so thoughtful and articulate.

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  3. I would love to hear the other side of the story. Why do they feel the need to individually wrap the item ? I think its to reduce the losses during transportation and storage. Perhaps if we should also focus on coming up with solutions for the problem too ? If we just take the plastic out, they will have to hike the prices to compensate for the losses making organic produce more out of reach ? *

    *Spoke to one farmer. Not concrete enough.

    Thoughts ?

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    1. These are interesting points... the American agricultural system makes organic produce too expensive. The certification is pricey and some of the parameters are ridiculous (like having a special shower for the USDA agent) and farmers in general have it rough in the US (well, everywhere). At least in France some of the farmers at the organic markets point out it's still cost effective for them to use natural growing methods (not paying for fertilizer, seed saving, etc. save cash). The ones I buy from transport in wooden crates and are known to be quite profitable, although I never asked them about losses (and, they don't have to transport very far- they aren't too far from Paris). I think the solution is biodegradable fibers, fully compostable and energy efficient packaging, etc.

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    3. The reasons that I heard after personal investigations (phone calls to producers & supermarket managers) are:
      - physically separating organic from conventional for fear of contamination (I do not know whether this is a legitimate concern or no)
      - preventing stealing (distributors argue that people will change labels in order to get organic produce at the price of non-organic (again, I have no information as to whether there is proof for this claim, and if there is, how much volume stealing represents in the total profit - I personally have never witnessed people changing stickers)
      - packaging machinery that was created exclusively to work with plastics. Once the mechanical systems are in place, the only way to feed them is to buy the existing supplies (synthetic rubber bands with tags, meshes, synthetic thread, etc).
      - in general, the overwhelming supply, amongst packaging providers, of plastic based solutions. I guess it is really a matter of demand and habit - since the voices of consumers haven't been heard so far in their demands for benign packaging, the packagers seem to sell according to what distributors and farmers will find most convenient / affordable / reliable. Which is understandable, and the reason why we need to have a dialog and create new solutions.

      The current situation seems to be the result of a system that was put in place without much thought being given to its environmental impact (quite like our general reliance on oil for everything). Hopefully the more vocal we are about wanting alternatives and a non-polluting food system, the more the industry will evolve.

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    4. On the topic of losses: this might vary with the kind of produce.
      From personal experience, I have seen that bananas for example sweat and get brown in a very odd way when they are packaged in plastic bags. They will not mature and get sweeter with more dark spots, but will sort of rot in place with a strange neutral taste. At least this is what happened to the ones I was buying in my previous supermarket. For such produce completely wrapped in plastic, I wonder if there is a suffocation / lack of breathing issue. But you are right for items such as styrofoam (sigh) trays & wraps, they will indeed prevent bruising and cushion the produce during transportation.

      As for all the other kinds of packaging: meshes, ties, stickers - their main use is grouping the produce together and/or labelling it. Therefore, it doesn't seem that they would help with cutting down the losses much.

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    5. Thank you for sharing the information. I am an engineer in Silicon Valley. I hope to inspire some sort of solutions from the tech industry if that is possible. Every input helps.

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    6. @Archana please do! research is badly needed <3

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  4. Thank you so much to raise this topic ! Last time I went to buy avocado in a Naturalia and it was wrapped in plastic .. Duh ?! The same when you want to by greens (I mean a mix of letuce, roquette and mache), it seems impossible to find it NOT in a plastic bag. It pisses me off SO MUCH and I do agree with what you say : it makes absolutly no sense, especially since most of the costumers of organic produces DO care about the environment, and are the most willing to change their habits.

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    1. Yes, it is very difficult to find greens loose in the US as well! Fortunately places like La Recolte and Causses have the greens unpackaged but that is a rarity... organic foods definitely are the low hanging fruit and as Studio Habeas Corpus says a great place to start effecting change.

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    2. Hi Ariana, could you once write an article about composting in the city ? I also live in Paris and I find the "public" compost (such as those in the garden) really restrictive (no lemon, no cat litter) and I wonder about lombricompost. How do you do ?

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    3. Hey great idea! One of the things I noticed about composts in Paris is they keep exploding bc of the citrus peels, honestly I feel the world can't keep up with everybody's compost. I started composting at home when I moved but I'll write a post soon. I was part of a community compost but apparently it shut down when I moved bc no one was turning it and they were putting too many browns in the pile. I candy my citrus peels though

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