by Beth Rankin
Some of you may know I have a small commercial food processing business, Can-Do Real Food. Working with small farms in and near McMinnville, I capture their surplus produce. These are fruits and vegetables that are first quality but the farmer was unable to sell to her own customers, or second quality “funny” shaped items that have the same nutritional quality but are not desirable to most consumers. Instead of feeding these things to farm animals or throwing them on a compost pile, working with me permits the farmer to receive some financial value for that previously unsold food. My business is to turn this produce into tasty preserved foods either by canning or dehydrating. This reduces food waste (and now you can see why getting involved with Zero Waste McMinnville was a natural step for my community involvement.) These preserved offerings also help consumers eat food raised right here, full of flavor because it was harvested when ripe and processed soon after picking.
I use glass, of course, when I can. I often reuse the same jar with a new lid for optimal sealing. Many consumers have returned jars to me at the farmers’ market, but other people use the jars to hold other items, another kind of reuse. Glass is a sustainable material because it permits multiple uses.
My dehydrated food, however, is packaged in plastic that is rated to preserve its dryness for at least five years. I purposely purchased bags with a zip attachment so the bags could be reused, but I suspect most people throw them away when empty.
And now, aware of how devastating plastics are to our environment, I am searching for alternative packaging materials. The “Make it, Take it” campaign urges manufacturers to take the responsibility for the end stage of the product packaging. For example, in some nations that have not outright banned styrofoam, the manufacturer has to provide a way for the consumer to return the packaging material back to the factory. Then the manufacturer is responsible for the way the product is handled after its use.
The concept behind this level of responsibility is that manufacturers will stop using materials which are not easy or inexpensive to enter the waste stream.
So, I am contacting “green” packaging manufacturers and awaiting information, but the websites I have checked are not yet geared for my market niche.
This is an example of how each of us, aware of our plastic habit, needs to take responsibility to find alternatives. It is also an example how we should hold manufacturers of all consumer items to be responsible for their packaging choices.
It is easy for some supermarket items. The bulk bins in many of our local grocery stores help us to purchase the amount of the items we need without any commercial packaging. When I go shopping for food I not only carry my bags for packing the food home, but I also have about 8 mesh bags for produce and bulk food items. I carry the plastic container I used the first time I bought the peanut butter that comes out of the grinder, cleaned of course after all has been eaten.
But still we rely on plastic for liquids and most meats and fish are also wrapped in plastic. Plastic is popular because it can seal out air, preserving freshness and it also seals in liquid, avoiding wetness and contamination of other items stored nearby.
Green packaging is coming along and can provide similar protections for meat. Be Green Packaging produces trays for meats and fish molded from plant fiber instead of the typical polystyrene. They are compostible in 90 days, making it a product that can be handled by industrial composting facilities.
Items like this give me hope that in another few years a product will become available to replace my plastic packaging
Meanwhile, do what you can to avoid using plastics, particularly those that are only good for a single use. Easy to implement:
- Use metal or paper straws instead of plastic. When you carry straws with you, refusing plastic straws will become easy.
- Purchase reusable beeswax infused cotton to wrap sandwiches and partially used vegetables to store in the refrigerator instead of plastic wrap.
- Carry mesh bags to the supermarket for loose items like bulk bin goods or vegetables instead of using the available one-use plastic bags.
- Offer your own portable hot cup with lid instead of accepting the plastic lined paper cup from your favorite coffee kiosk.
Finally, if you have a favorite product that is still using packaging that is wasteful, write them to suggest they go green.