These days, plastic bags aren’t very popular and for good reasons: plastic pollution is having a terrible effect on our environment. However, when used to package food, plastic can prevent a lot of food waste. Did you know that we waste nearly a third of all food produced? And salad and cooking leaves are some of the most wasted food items, along with bread. Plastic bags keep the veg fresh and stop food waste. Salad leaves and greens for cooking wilt very quickly when not wrapped. On a warm day, lettuce would not last an hour. Yet in a plastic bag, in the fridge, can remain fresh and good to eat for days.
Over the years we’ve heard the comment that people would prefer us to use less plastic bags or use paper bags or re-usable containers instead. So we looked into all the options and this is what we found:
Paper good, plastic bad, right? Well, not quite. The carbon footprint of single use paper bags is significantly greater than that of plastic bags. The process of papermaking is very polluting and has a very large water footprint. Paper is also heavier than plastic, so it takes more fuel to transport than plastic. Paper bags cannot be re-used, once they’ve contained soil covered veg. Plastic bags can be rinsed out, dried and re-used. When a paper bag goes to landfill, it will decompose, releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Plastic bags can be recycled and used to make other plastic items. You can return any of the plastic packaging that we have used to wrap your veg and we’ll take it to the recycling facilities.
Although the vast majority of our customers are very good at bringing their bags back in time, each week we have to substitute between six and ten plastic bags because neither of the two GIG bags supplied were returned. This is problematic, as the plastic bags don’t work so well in our system (they don’t stand up when packing, don’t fit in the cupboard very well and they are harder to transport from the packing place to the cupboard without squashing the veg). So considering that, we can see a lot of problems in any re-usable containers getting returned in sufficient quantity and clean condition for them to not just reach the packing place, but each of the growing plots to be filled by the grower.
- Using newspaper to wrap veg: some printing inks are toxic, food hygiene regulations do not permit this.
- Putting veg and fruit loose in the bag. We try and do this whenever possible, but because the veg come from a number of growers, the box scheme buys them in “portions” and this is how they get delivered to the packing space. We do buy some veg in bulk and these we weigh out when packing the bags, but this is very time consuming. Also sometimes we have to weigh them out into small bags because the veg are covered in soil. If we didn’t the customers’ bags would get very dirty very quickly.
- Compostable plastic bags: we’re keeping an eye on developments in this area. Currently there are still a lot of issues: they are either made of food (corn starch, potato starch), can contain GMO (corn), they don’t compost in household compost and have to be send to industrial composting, their manufacturing process can have a massive carbon footprint, councils in this area can’t deal with them, so they go to landfill where they decompose and release methane. They are also expensive.
We have thought a lot about packaging because none of us like pollution and waste, but to get your veggies to you in a good, fresh condition, we do need to use some plastic bags. We choose to use good quality bags, so they can be re-used. And at the end of their life, you can return them to us and we’ll make sure they are recycled.