It's ridiculous that organic produce in the U.S. comes packaged in far more plastic than conventionally-grown foods. Join the movement to demand greener packaging and zero waste alternatives.
Walk into any supermarket in the United States and you’ll probably find a fairly decent organic produce section. The organics sector is growing at a rate that’s four times that of conventional agriculture, which goes to show how badly consumers want it.
There is a dark side to this wonderful growth. Take a closer look at that impressive selection of organic baby spinach, organic lemons, and trios of organic broccoli heads, and you’ll notice an excess of plastic packaging – clamshell containers, plastic mesh bags, plastic labels and ties – that far exceeds that of conventionally-grown produce.
It’s a strange and infuriating contradiction, that those consumers who are most environmentally and health conscious are the ones who are forced to purchase fruits and vegetables in non-recyclable, single-use packaging, and ultimately end up generating more waste than if they purchased non-organics.
This should not be the case, which is why a group of environmental activists are petitioning the USDA’s National Organics Standards Board (NOSB) and National Organic Program (NOP) to come up with alternative packaging rules.
The petition, launched by Faune Stevens of Studio Habeas Corpus, has received support from big-name Zero Waste leaders such as Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home, Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers, Ariana Schwarz of Paris To Go, the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and Beth Terry of My Plastic Free Life. It calls on the NOSB and NOP to implement the following:
Faune Stevens explained in an email to TreeHugger why a packaging change for organics could be a game-changer for the entire food industry:
“The organic industry and the organic consumer are probably best positioned to pioneer material change and advocate for zero waste. Over the long term, we hope that, once zero-waste, low-tech, non-packaging practices are implemented in the field of organics, they will be generalized to ALL produce, then ALL food, etc.”
Why do organics come with extra plastic?
Over the course of Stevens’ research, she has discovered that store managers and food packagers cite a variety of reasons for organics’ extra packaging. Some have expressed fear of theft (people swapping labels around in order to buy organic at conventional prices) and fear of cross-contamination (the idea that organics can ‘pick up’ pesticides from nearby produce) as reasons for why the packaging is necessary.
There does not appear to be any type of material or particular mode of packaging that is required by law, other than the need to provide traceability of some sort; it seems that such decisions are left to the grower’s discretion, which is why some organic bananas come in plastic bags, while others come with plastic wraparound labels.
Stevens, who shares striking photos on Instagram of leftover packaging and has created an artistic gallery of packaging here, writes that a big part of the problem is the overabundance of plastic packaging solutions offered by providers, with few green alternatives:
“Since a lot of the existing packaging machinery was designed to work with plastics (i.e. polystyrene, polyethylene, polypropylene, ethylene vinyl acetate, polyethylene terephthalate, nylon, polyester, etc. for the meshes, bags, hard shells & labels), and sustainable packaging systems are currently either under-developed or abandoned, the plastics are what [producers and handlers] turn to for convenience, affordability, and reliability. [This demonstrates] the reason why we need a real discussion to find new solutions.”
The petition will be presented at the next meeting of the National Organic Standards Board. The goal is to reach 100,000 signatures by October 26, 2016. With the petition currently at nearly 12,000 signatures, there’s still a way to go, but it’s entirely achievable if enough people get on board.
Please take a moment to sign today and pass the link on to family and friends. There is power in numbers, and the more vocal we are about wanting alternatives and a non-polluting food system, the more the industry will be forced to evolve.