Plastic sucks, it’s no joke. Anyone who has seen images of the 2 gigantic plastic islands choking our Oceans knows that plastic truly needs to get gone.
At YYC Growers, we repeatedly have customers ask for a plastic free share option. And we certainly do wish to find a solution, but thus far, we’ve been challenged to solve the issue of vegetable freshness sans plastic. In this post, I want to identify a few reasons why plastic is so challenging to shake, and also a few places where I think we can win. Your feedback with regards to this challenge would be much appreciated. The more innovation and ideas we have, the better solutions we can develop.
1. Freshness - Out of the gate, freshness is the number one priority for us. Our customers commit to YYC Growers because they can taste the difference in the local produce we grow. But crops like lettuce, spinach, cilantro (basically any green or herb) fare poorly when exposed to heat and dry air. Take a lettuce leaf and place it on your counter. In 30 minutes that leaf will dry out and resemble a worn leather bag.
2. Protection - Greens in an inflated bag are protected. Like little bubble boys, plastic offers delicate lettuces and other greens a bag to absorb the impact that comes during transport. You can notice the difference when the bags are not inflated because the leaves are susceptible to crush and bruising. Our Quality Manual asks all our farms to inflate their bags and use a taper to secure an airlock, this protects the leaves and ensures a higher quality (and tastier) product for you.
3. Cost & Sanitation - Another primary reason that the choice is plastic is due to the challenges of working within current health & safety standards, as well as cost limitations. Unfortunately, the upfront cost to procure cloth bags or glass jars is beyond our reach at this time (not to mention the cost of sanitizing infrastructure that would have to accompany). We’d have to raise our prices significantly to manage this cost and presently, it’s more important to us that we get fresh, healthy produce onto the plates of more Calgarians.
In a reusable system, sanitization also becomes a major consideration… and challenge. Admittedly, I don’t know of any farm organizations that have been able to successfully set this up with approval from their local health authority. If you know of any examples that we could look to for best practices on this, please send them our way!
Ways we can do better
1. Bulk - One of the solutions that YYC Growers has been considering as a means of reducing our plastic use is to do bulk for some products. These products would include: radish, potato, beets, carrots. The idea is simple: provide bulk produce in bins, provide scoopers for customers, let customers gauge the appropriate unit size and have them bring their own bags. On one farm, this can save as much as 25, 000 bags. This is obviously hugely significant.
One challenge with this is that Freshness is still a concern. Bulk carrots that get tossed into the crisper, for example, tend to become as wiggly as a wet noodle in a short time. So even when you get home, you still might want to get your veggies in a plastic bag to ensure a longer shelf life.
2. Bring your own bag - Historically we issued all our customers a beautiful burlap bag to use for their pick-up. When the bags we wanted ran out of production to be replaced by canvas bags, we stopped this. Lots of the bags that get used by YYC Growers are a result of Customers forgetting their own bag. By remembering to bring a bag from home, you can help us reduce the number of bags we issue out.
What are your thoughts?
- Is the amount of plastic we use a deterrent for you to join our program?
- Would you favour the bulk system (where possible), despite the concerns around proper storage to maintain freshness?