Trader Joe's To Cut Back On Plastic Packaging

by Shawn Binder on 07/26/2019 | 3 Minute Read

On Monday, mega-food retailer Trader Joe's announced they're rolling out less plastic in their produce section.

This was in direct response to backlash surrounding their usage of single-use plastic to sell their fruits and vegetables. The public outcry for a reduction of the material manifested itself in a Change.org petition garnering over 66,000 signatures within half a month of launching.

Inside Trader Joe's, the brand’s podcast reporting on everything from their cheese and wine section to why every cashier is so dang friendly, rolled out an episode on Monday where they interviewed category manager for produce Jack Salamon about the fruits and vegetable section.

The biggest change consumers will see in terms of packaging is that items like garlic will no longer come in individual plastic containers. Now, you can find items such as garlic, apples and onions in bins. The reduction of plastic is not only significant for the environment, but it will have an impact on cost.

“The cost of putting those two little heads of garlic in a sleeve added a lot to our costs,” Salmon said on the podcast. “But now, you can go to Trader Joe's and get a big clove of garlic for 49 cents.”

Editorial photograph

For smaller items such as strawberries, Salamon said the chain is testing two new eco-friendly package types. One has a fiber till—a material he compared to cardboard that's biodegradable and compostable—plus a plastic overwrap.

The second package type being tested out is a "thinner plastic.” While these changes are well-intended, no one knows how effective they will be. After all, “thinner plastic” is not only still plastic, but it's hard to recycle. The podcast didn't detail what the resin code of the new, thinner plastic would be, a code that indicates the chemical compound used to create the plastic, and additionally whether or not it can be accepted by your local recycling program, so no one knows what the impact of the packaging is.

In December 2018, Trader Joe’s unveiled its strategy to be “better neighbors” and reduce the amount of plastic they used. The plan to focus on more sustainable and environmentally-friendly packaging outlined several goals including "reducing and removing packaging, sourcing renewable and recycled packaging materials, choosing packaging that can be realistically recycled, avoiding the use of harmful substances in packaging and providing recycling and disposal instructions for customers," according to its site.

Some of the changes already implemented have been:

  • Single-use plastic bags are no longer available.
  • Biodegradable alternatives replaced Styrofoam containers in the produce section.
  • Flower arrangements now come in paper as opposed to plastic wrapping.

These changes are all a part of Trader Joe's initiative to eliminate 1 million pounds of plastic used throughout U.S. stores this year. According to the company, the chain will surpass that goal and is on its way to eliminating 4 million pounds by the end of 2019.

Over 2 million pounds from that total will be coming directly out of the produce section. The grocery chain is deeply committed to the well-being of the community, as shown by donating unsold produce and providing sourced information to their consumers about recyclable products. While the efforts of Trader Joe’s to clean up their plastic-act is admirable, only time will tell how effective this shift will be.

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