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” firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Thank you for your inquiry and thank you for shopping at Trader Joe’s .
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.