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July 11, 2007

Store Report: Trader Joe’s & NatureWorks ® PLA

 

When we learned in February that a Trader Joe’s was going to be moving in to the old Albertson’s building just a few blocks from our house and right near the Rockridge BART station, we were thrilled. In fact, the idea of Trader Joe’s coming has been enough to lift me out of the dumps on quite a few occasions this year. Especially in the morning when I’m tired and grouchy, I’ll be standing in the shower and suddenly the thought, “Oh, but Trader Joe’s is coming! Yippee!” will enter my head and give a whole new brightness to the day. (Some of us are simple that way.)

So when shortly after starting the plastic project, I was reminded by my friend Nancy what a packaging nightmare Trader Joe’s is, the sun over Rockridge grew just a little bit dimmer that day. Then, yesterday online, I ran across a random posting referring to the biodegradable plastic that Trader Joe’s uses. A ray of hope! I e-mailed them immediately to find out if it was true. And this is their very quick response:

Subject: RE: Trader Joe’s Product Information Form
Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2007 09:19:09 -0700
From: “Web Customer Relations” wcr001@traderjoes.com
To: Beth Terry

Hello Beth ,

Thank you for you interest in our packaging. Trader Joe’s does use Biodegradable packaging for some of our produce items. They are made by Natureworks PLA. These packages will be labeled as such. You may use the link below to read more detailed information on these types of packages.

http://www.natureworksllc.com

Thank you for your inquiry and thank you for shopping at Trader Joe’s .

Kellye
Trader Joe’s Customer Relations
——————————————
So I actually went on the Natureworks PLA site and found out that what the Trader Joe’s rep told me is actually not quite true.

Natureworks PLA (polyactic acid) is made from corn sugar, which is fermented into lactic acid, which is then used to create the polymer. In the United States, PLA is categorized as “compostable” rather than “biodegradable” because it requires the heat of compost conditions in order to breakdown, unlike a paper bag, for instance, that breaks down immediately regardless of temperature.

PLA will NOT biodegrade in the Ocean because the temperature is too low, so I can see it still being a potential hazard to sea creatures! It will take a long time to biodegrade in landfills (although much shorter and without the toxicity of petroleum-based plastic.) It is not suited for home composting, but rather needs the high heats of commercial composting operations.

The good thing about PLA is that it can be produced with non-GMO corn rather than fossil fuels and is less toxic. And in the right conditions, it will biodegrade.

So, I guess the lesson in all this is that regardless of what the packaging is made from, less is still better! Why does Trader Joe’s encase their produce in any kind of plastic when other grocery stores do not? I don’t know. Maybe for uniformity of pricing so they don’t have to weigh anything. But really, how much time does that take at the register? Most other grocery stores have scales at the checkout counter that swiftly measure the weight and calculate the price in a second.

I have sent Trader Joe’s a follow-up e-mail. I’ll be interested to hear their response, but in the mean time, I will continue to purchase produce from other stores besides Trader Joe’s because I believe that items that don’t need packaging shouldn’t be packaged.
 



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8 comments
Joanne Miller
Joanne Miller

I love Trader Joe's and do all my shopping there. I have, however, been saving those horrible plastic, or non plastic, containers for several months now. I have a stack. I am sending them to Trader Joe's with a note inside, one at a time. I'm simply saying, that I'm opposed to the plastic (or whatever they are made of) and that I wish to see them sell produce like they sell bananas, one at a time, or to package them in a more earth-friendly fashion. I haven't heard from them, but I just started. I simply put a stamp (two actually) on the container, with an address label, and mail it off. I'm not sure what condition it's in when it gets there, but I want to send a message. Trader Joe's, Inc. 800 South Shamrock Avenue Monrovia, CA 91016 (626) 599-3700

Rob
Rob

The packaging at TJ's is atrociuos. 4 apples in a plastic box. I do not buy much in the way of produce from them. I buy bananas, sometime tomatoes and potatoes when they are in bulk- (they charge per each item) along with melons, and occasionally other produce when it is not Pre or rather Post packaged. Drives me nuts. I look in a mirror and saw a werewolf. His hair was a mess. THink he had the mange. .-= Rob´s last blog ..Vending Machines go green =-.

Tim Dunn, Realtor
Tim Dunn, Realtor

There are a lot of problems with PLA - If we made all of the plastic disposable items used in the world every year, it would take one hundred million tons of corn to make it. That would lead to mass starvation in the third world, as that represents at least 10% of the world's grain supply. Also, in landfills, PLA exudes methane when it decomposes-and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It also takes a huge amount of diesel to grow, fertilize, ship, and process this corn. As a practical matter, it is also not recyclable. The alternative? Oxo-biodegradable plastics. See http://biogreenproducts.biz for full information. -Tim Dunn

Anonymous
Anonymous

There are a lot of problems with PLA - If we made all of the plastic disposable items used in the world every year, it would take one hundred million tons of corn to make it. That would lead to mass starvation in the third world, as that represents at least 10% of the world's grain supply. Also, in landfills, PLA exudes methane when it decomposes-and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It also takes a huge amount of diesel to grow, fertilize, ship, and process this corn. As a practical matter, it is also not recyclable. The alternative? Oxo-biodegradable plastics. See http://biogreenproducts.biz for full information. -Tim Dunn

terrible person
terrible person

I saw a werewolf with hay fever walking through a garden on a windy day...Achoooooo!

Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank
Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank

As I found out, all non-petro plastic is NOT biodegradable, although it may be compostable in the right conditions. There's a difference.I do intend to do a lot more research on bio plastics and have included a category for it on the sidebar.Ahhhooooo!

terrible person
terrible person

I think you should write more about non-petroleum based plastics. The first plastics, like celluloid, were not produced from petroleum, right? How about Bakelite? (Although some of the things you've been baking lately are definitely NOT lite.) Is all non-petro plastic biodegradable? And is it actually good, or is non-petro plastic just as bad in other ways as petro?I saw a werewolf buying the pina colada mix at Trader Joe's. His hair was perfect!

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Joanne, I love the idea of putting the stamp and address label directly onto the container. Good work.

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