The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
March 23, 2011

Stahlbush’s New Biodegradable Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Bag is Plastic.

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One thing I learned to my dismay back in 2007 when I decided to try and live without plastic is that without exception, all frozen foods come packaged in some kind of plastic. Even cardboard containers like ice cream cartons are lined with plastic. That information sucked for me, the convenience food junkie.

Stahlbush Island Farms frozen produceI did however, have a moment of hope when I discovered Stahlbush Island Farms’s frozen fruits and veggies packaged in what looked like plain brown paper. But that hope was crushed when I opened the bag and saw that it too was lined inside with plastic.

Well, recently, several readers have excitedly informed me that Stahlbush’s packaging is now labeled as biodegradable.

Stahlbush Island Farms biodegradable frozen spinach bagStahlbush Island Farms biodegradable frozen spinach bag

So I went out and bought a bag of frozen spinach just so I could look inside. Here’s what I found:

Stahlbush Island Farms biodegradable frozen spinach bag

Looks like plastic, right? The Stahlbush web site doesn’t give any details about the new bag except to say it’s biodegradable. So, not one to accept any company’s claims without question (and always skeptical of the word “biodegradable” in the first place), I made some calls to get to the bottom of the packaging mystery.

Stahlbush sent me their press release (PDF) about the new biodegradable bag.  But it only mentions the brown kraft paper and biodegradable inks.  The press release says nothing about the plastic lining.

So I spoke with Mike Serve of Cadillac Products, the manufacturer of Stahlbush’s bags.  He told me that the lining of the bag is in fact petroleum-based plastic.  The difference is that it contains an additive which causes the plastic to break down in a matter of months.  What’s the additive?  “Ah, that’s our secret ingredient!” he told me.

And that about sums up the plastics industry.  As a rep from Stonyfield Farms told me back when I reviewed that company’s new compostable plastic containers, “Plastic is the most secret industry you can imagine.”

So, that’s the scoop, folks.  The package is made with a petroleum-based plastic lining. The plastic contains chemicals which the manufacturer is not willing to reveal.  Same old story, except that this package will supposedly biodegrade.  But where are the tests proving that it breaks down sufficiently? How do we know it doesn’t leave traces of plastic or toxic additives in the environment? And how do we know that chemicals from the plastic cannot leach out into our food?

We don’t.

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37 Comments on "Stahlbush’s New Biodegradable Frozen Fruits and Vegetables Bag is Plastic."

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Just wanted to comment that I have attempted to compost a few Stahlbush vegetables bags in my backyard compost bin, with no success. One bag was in there for over a year when I finally gave up and removed the entirely unscathed bag to the garbage bin. Apparently ‘biodegradable’ is not to be confused with ‘will decompose into something natural and usable within a reasonable period of time’, as Miriam mentioned below.

Biodegradable and compostable are most definitely not interchangable, no matter how often the media or companies do it. Lots of things biodegrade, sometimes even plastics made of oil, but it is really a greenwash claim in the realm of packaging.

Good to see someone is making the companies accountable for their advertising. Did you ever find out more about this?

I think the problem with bio-degrade plastics is they take forever to degrade in landfill and the like. What most people don’t realize is so does a lot of other stuff even things like banana skins.

Regina Sandler-Philliips
In response to my follow-up inquiry (in which I cited this blog), I received the following from the national retail sales manager at Stahlbush (contact info at the end). Anyone want to translate? The FDA compliant additive the we utilize is less then 2% of the entire lamination and does not pose a toxic threat to the product or the environment. At the end of the laminations degradation cycle it returns to the environment not as small particles, but as biomass and humus. The lamination does not contain heavy metals unlike most oxodegradeble products. Our additive supplier has engaged several… Read more »

Ugh! This is so discouraging. I’ve just started my own non-plastic journey and was keeping this brand in mind for quick veggies for our toddler. Luckily our local co-op just started carrying some bulk frozen veggies. Thanks so much for all your research, I’ve learned a ton from your site.

Jen

In an environmental forum I belong to, someone mentioned Dole was supposed to start using biodegradable packaging to help with our environment.

grant for school

Thanks for doing this research and for posting. I’m glad to know! Disappointed, but glad to know anyway. Peace! :)

“petroleum-based plastic lining” – it might be biodegradable but is it environmentally friendly?

What about frozen spinach. Isn’t that just frozen in waxed paper boxes? I’ve never seen any plastic inside those.

How careless they are! Atleast, they need to prove that their product is really degredable and noway harmful to our pretty environment.
Thanks for making us aware.
Keep posting.

Hi JoAnn. I hear you! I know a lot of businesses are out there trying to find good alternatives. BUT what really irks me the most is the secrecy of the plastics industry. I understand that companies don’t want to give away their trade secrets, but as a consumer, without knowing what chemicals have been added to the plastic packaging, I have no way of knowing what could leach out of it. And that really worries me. It’s true that frozen foods necessitate plastic right now and that during the winter many people have to rely on them. But I… Read more »
Hi Beth: As I promised in Twitter. The whole sustainable plastics packaging issue is murky in the eyes of consumers. Everyone wants a better environmental packaging solution including the packaging companies. There are a variety of solutions that have been developed to address the issue some more successful than others. Its a very complicated problem one that will take some time to resolve. Just look at what happened with the Sunchips attempt to create a compostable (biodegradable) package. Consumers went over the edge complaining that it was too loud and noisy. So much so that they ended up taking it… Read more »
While I love reading blogs about people attempting to reduce their impact with consumer plastics, I very rarely comment on my opinions. I think that blogs often attract people of a similar mindset and I’m a bit of a plastics nut (I’m working on a master’s of science in plastics engineering with specialization in Medical Plastics and interest in sustainable feedstock plastics). I admit that plastics are often used in wasteful ways, there are often factors which make plastics the best choice for specific applications. The journey of frozen food packaging requires specific packaging, handling, shipping and storage before it… Read more »
It’s all greenwashing. I have been working in Marketing for several years and anything any company writes is all lies. Free always means Costs Money. Save always means Spend. And Green always means Pollutes. There is no convenient way to do a plastic-free life. The only way to do it is to buy direct from the farmer or grow your own. Anything you buy in a store, even if it sits on the shelf without plastic wrapping, was wrapped in plastic at some point in the supply chain. Even the farmers’ fields are wrapped in plastic these days. I’ve seen… Read more »
I’ve heard of the cornstarch infused plastic, which is probably what this is. there’s a brand of “biodegradable” zipper bags made of this, I want to say it’s called “green head” but I can never find it when I look up that name. I have the link somewhere, if it matters. I also heard that some of the plastic rings on 6-packs of soda cans are made of this plastic, but I don’t know how true it is. I, too, wonder if this breaks down into smaller plastic pieces or whether all the polymer chains are broken down. I’d love… Read more »

I use g diapers for my baby girl and they really do decompose in thirty days. I buried the wet ones as they advise and when I turned the soil over in thirty days they were pretty much decomposed. The actual diaper is plastic free, the reusable pant part is plastic. It is so hard avoiding plastic. I used to buy ice tea but now make solar in a big glass jar and it really works and no sugar. g

Am I crazy or did cut potatoes used to come in a paper bag only? I swear I remember that. Oh well, those bags probably didn’t keep the potatoes fresh for 20 years. lol

Thank you for exposing yet another misleading green scam. Much as I hate to shop there, the only place I can buy any vegetables, fresh or frozen, not packaged in plastic, is WalMart. Sigh. I recently scoured the shelves at my local co-op to find chips, crackers — ANY snacks not in plastic and it was hopeless! Fortunately, homemade crackers are easy, but I guess I’ll never chip snack again. Speaking of homemade, I tried your mustard recipe last weekend and LOVE it! Now, I just ran out of ketchup – any progress on the condiment front? (I know it’s… Read more »

You can now get a type of ‘plastic’ which is biodegradable in just few months because it’s made (I think) from corn starch. I would guess that it is more expensive which is why you don’t see it very often, but rising oil prices could start to change that…

Life without plastic is very difficult. I admire you for setting this objective. Have you considered growing and freezing your own frozen foods and vegetables? You could package them in your choice of eco-friendly packaging.

In the Netherlands, my home country, we have a tv show, (Keuringsdienst van Waarde) which researches similar things. Not so long ago, they had a look at biodegradable and compostable packagings. There were three conclusions that made me quite sad actually: 1. Biodegradable is a hollow phrase, EVERYTHING is biodegradable. Only some stuff will dissappear after 1 month, and other stuff after 10,000’s of years. In theory, everything will degrade, eventually. 2. Compostable products are not processed in a commercial composter, since it takes too long to turn into compost. The product is being filtered out of the other compostable… Read more »
Where I live we have a comercial composter and they WILL NOT take plastics that are labelled biodegradable, they must be labelled compostable. Most biodegradable products contain petroleum and most just break down into ever smaller pieces of…..plastic. It will still end up in our oceans and elsewhere and will never turn into a natural product. However, if a product trully is compostable (and of course there is no guarantee, even if they use the term)…then it will, with the right combination of heat and air, break down and become organic material (ie, soil). If a compostable or biodegradable product… Read more »
Jessica @ Clothdiaperingmama

Its sickening that we are being “green-washed” like crazy with organic products in plastic and biodegradable (supposedly) packaging….how long does it take to biodegrade….possibly 10 years…..and possibly harming the environment in the process.

Sounds just like the Sun Chips bags that were not actually compostable in backyard composts. It’s really sad when companies tout such great “green” features that turn out to be false. This is why I no longer buy foods in packages when I can avoid it. Thanks for sharing this!

what about the chips bags from sun chips that state they are %100 compostable? i wonder if these are also some sort of plastic after all, in which case i should not buy anymore

Hi Elie. Someone else also asked that question. See my response in comments above. :-) Or read this post:

/2010/10/sunchips-discontinues-compostable-bag-do-we-care/

Erin@canadianfamilycompact

I just read your post about the compost sun chips bag. They are still available in Canada and it is the only “chips” we buy since starting this experiment. We use them to hold all our compost before it goes in the bin. I don’t think their sales have decreased in Canada because of the sound…I am pretty sure that the might have wentbup since th hype in the U.S.

Hi Melissa. The Sunchips bag was different. It was a plastic made from corn. Here’s what I wrote about that bag:

/2010/10/sunchips-discontinues-compostable-bag-do-we-care/

I don’t know anything about Puffins, and I didn’t realize Klean Kanteens came in a plastic bag. I bought mine off the store shelf unwrapped. I wonder if it was delivered to the store in a plastic bag. I’ll have to find out.

probably just scatters all the molecules, like the dispersants they used in the gulf oil spill. we know petroleum is forever.

I’m curious about the “Dogs on Board” biodegradable poop bags. Is it the same problem because I’m spending extra money on these? Thanks for your great site. Very inspiring!

At least it’s a step in the right direction. A move towards less plastic is still something.
Though I too have stopped using frozen fruit… they used to be a staple for my morning smoothies. I’ve switched to home grown or our local CSA for most my fruit and veg needs.

Is the same true for the short-lived Sunchips & the Puffins bio cereal bag? What about the bag klean Kanteens come in?

what sneaky ….

So sad that they are doing this, they are misleading so many people. Guess it just shows that fresh is best!

Fonda LaShay
http://www.mintandchili.com

Thanks so much for persisting and following through on the plastic question. You make my resolve to stock up and freeze or dry fruit (to be stored in glass) this summer that much stronger!
Even though I haven’t posted pictures and plastic count, I continue to reduce my plastic waste. Your site is a huge help!
-Renee

Scary and sad!

If it’s any consolation, I bought a bag of their sweet potatoes (because their farm’s mission statement sounded so noble) and they were awful. Not just “not great” but just plain awful. Sounds like their customer service was pretty awful, too.

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