The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
July 23, 2007

Frozen Entrees: A bigger plastic problem than I knew

For weeks, I’ve been choosing frozen entrees in pressboard trays (Pressware®) over those in plastic trays, thinking that the only plastic waste was the film overwrap. Now, I find out that the cardboard tray itself is coated with a layer of PET plastic. I found this out through a very nice e-mail exchange and telephone interview with Stephen Moore, CEO of Helen’s Foods.

Before I continue with the plastic talk, I do want to say that Helen’s Kitchen farfalle & basil pesto with tofu steaks is hands down the best tasting frozen meal I have ever eaten. It’s certified organic, GMO-free, vegetarian, and just plain delicious. It would take me a day to prepare something this good from scratch. So it’s with a heavy heart that I continue my report on the product’s plastic content.

According to Moore, and from research I’ve done online, there is basically no way these days to create a frozen entree without plastic if it must be cooked. Frozen entree containers must be able to contain liquids, including oils, and withstand high heat in both the microwave and the oven. (Yes, there are still people who choose to cook frozen dinners in the oven rather than the microwave.) Biodegradable plastic, then, is not an option because by its nature, it degrades with heat. That’s kind of the point.

Because of the plastic coating in the pressboard trays, they are not recyclable or compostable. In an effort to be more “environmentally friendly,” Helen’s Foods is switching to CPET plastic trays (#1), which theoretically are recyclable. But theoretically recyclable and actually recyclable are not necessarily the same thing.

Here in the Bay Area, I can’t find any place to recycle #1 black plastic trays. Oakland, where I live, only collects narrow-necked bottles. In addition to bottles, San Francisco recycles containers #2, #4, & #5. Daly City, where I work, collects all containers #1 – #7; all, that is, except black plastic! So for me, these containers are non-recyclable plastic.

And whether or not you live in an area that recycles #1 black plastic containers, the fact remains that these containers are made from virgin petroleum, a non-renewable and highly polluting (as well as political) natural resource. And there doesn’t seem to be any way around it. If you want the convenience of packaged frozen entrees, you have to take the plastic with it. Period.

So, I’ve done my duty. I’ve given you the facts. The delicious as well as the dismal. Now it’s up to each of us to decide what we will buy.
 

6 comments
Marcia
Marcia

Why cannot they sell the same product with the intention of us cooking it in our own dishes in the microwave or oven? Or is it they prepare it in those containers - I hope not. The few times I buy something like that I put it in a bowl or on a plate and heat it that way, can't bring my self to cook in that plastic.Just found your blog, looking forward to reading it.

tincansandtwine
tincansandtwine

Not that frozen foods on their own are preferable to local foods, but I believe the company Quorn uses no plastics in their packaging of frozen "chicken". I particularly enjoy the skinless "breasts" that you can cook like real chicken. An occasional treat of mine, and one that is (I hope) plastic free.

sustainableisgood
sustainableisgood

Beth been reading your posts with much interest. You raise important issues here especially. We have the same issue here in Rhode Island. With the size of the state all of the recycling from cities and towns is handled by one organization (RI Resource Recovery) they will only take #1 (PETE, PET) and #2 (HDPE) bottles. They will not recycle #1 & #2 "tub" style containers like those in the dinners you are talking about or have become increasingly popular for selling salad greens etc. They also won't take #5 PP containers which are what many food grade items are sold in now esp dairy products. #5 is lighter and more durable than #1 so product manufacturers need less plastic for the same quality/durability for their product but then most communities won't recycle it! rider

terrible person
terrible person

and here is the SF Chronicle's article about the study warning about the dangers.

terrible person
terrible person

Here is a piece about the chemicals in household cleaning products, and why they don't tell you what they are ...

axelle
axelle

Save them for me! I will use those plastic-coated frozen dinner containers as kitty litter pans for when I have very young foster kittens who are too short to reach a regular litter box. If you have a better freezer than mine, you could make a bunch of stuff to eat, re-fill the containers, and then freeze the bunch of stuff for future dinners. U could cook plain pasta and pour bottled pesto sauce over it, pour some into those containers & freeze them. You could, you could.