One thing I noticed when I first moved to this side of the pond is that fruit, veg and herbs are massively overpackaged in the supermarkets. A prime example is a pack of four pears, sitting on a styrofoam tray, with a plastic lid overtop, and the entire thing wrapped in clingfilm. And no indication as to any of it being recyclable. Frustratingly, the most overpackaged items are those which are organic… whereas you can buy loose conventionally-grown apples, oranges, pears, bananas, etc., their organic counterparts are almost always — at the very least — in a plastic bag or net bag, or wrapped in plastic.
I’ve been thinking about ways to minimise the amount of plastic produce packaging I buy.
* Grow more fruit, veg and herbs. This bypasses the shops entirely, and has the added benefit of being the most cost-effective. Our homegrown produce is organic and can be eaten on the day it is picked, both of which maximise vitamin content. And the “carbon footprint” is also the smallest. We are fortunate to have two allotments, plus a small front & back garden at home. We also have a couple of sunny windowsills for herb growing. But our wet climate does not lend itself to growing some kitchen staples, like tomatoes, in the amounts that we use. Furthermore, there is a limited amount of produce which can be grown over winter.
* Buy fruit & veg that does not use packaging. A few items are sold in the big supermarkets without any packaging. The two independent greengrocers in our town also sell most produce loose, as do a few of the bigger health food shops. Buying produce loose means that you can buy exactly what you need, which minimises waste. The disadvantage is that neither of our town’s greengrocers sells organic produce, and most organic produce from the supermarkets is sold packaged. (Unfortunately, there is no health food shop near us which sells produce.) But some conventionally-grown produce is low in pesticides, so that is an option. Click here to learn more about pesticide levels of fruit and veg available in the UK; and here for a similar US-based list.
* Buy fruit & veg that uses better packaging. Sainsburys gets my vote here. Their organic tomatoes, for example, are packaged entirely in compostable materials: cardboard and biodegradable plastic, both of which are not just compostable but “home compostable”. This means that the packaging — made from maize or cellulose — does not require the high heat of commercial composting in order to break down. Sainsburys seems to be the leader in not just using compostable packaging, but also informing the consumer as to the composition of packaging and whether it is compostable, recyclable, or neither. Not all of their produce is packaged this way, but that’s where they’re headed. As a side note, degradable is not the same as biodegradable. Degradable plastic breaks down faster than other plastics, but only into smaller pieces of petroleum-based plastic. Degradable plastics are not compostable, either at home or in commercial composting facilities.
* Use an organic box scheme. This isn’t really a workable solution for us, but may be for others. There are over 500 organic box schemes in the UK, which deliver organic produce every week to your home. I don’t actually know how much, if any, packaging these schemes use, but hopefully it is minimal. Click here for a list of UK box schemes. Do such schemes exist in America and elsewhere in the world? Feel free to leave a comment on your country’s options.
Taking a closer look at the produce we buy and how it’s packaged has been eye-opening. Just shopping at a different supermarket will make a noticeable difference in the amount of plastic used. Granted, it’s not as convenient: Tesco is a short stroll away whilst a trip to Sainsburys necessitates driving.
In future posts, I’ll be looking at plastic packaging and their alternatives in other grocery categories.