Six years ago, Michael and I got a notice that a Trader Joe’s grocery store was going to be opening down the street from our house. This was back before I had woken up to the problems with plastic, and the news thrilled me. I had visions of all the fresh salads I was going to buy on my way to work every day. And then a few months later, I saw a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic, and I started attempting to live plastic-free. By the time the new Trader Joe’s opened, I could no longer shop there. The only department where I could find anything not packaged in plastic was the liquor aisle.
What seemed to be the most egregious misuse of plastic was in the produce aisle. While most grocery stores–even mainstream stores like Safeway–carried loose produce, Trader Joe’s seemed to only sell produce in plastic-wrapped multi-packs or plastic net bags. And while some of its produce containers were made from PLA, a compostable type of plastic, the containers are only compostable in special industrial composting facilities, and the fact is that PLA is made from mainly GMO corn, which is grown using vast amounts of chemicals. What’s more, the compostable trays were wrapped in non-compostable plastic film. And the question remained, why did produce need to be wrapped in the first place?
Fast forward to last week. Blog reader Stacey in NYC wrote the following post in the My Plastic-Free Life Discussion Forum:
I want to start off by saying I’m a big fan of the grocery store, Trader Joe’s. They are a really cool store with great products and they stand behind their products. I’ve also found their sales associates to be very friendly and helpful.
However, they wrap most of their fresh produce in plastic! I’m obviously preaching the the choir here when I say this is so disturbing. I wrote them a letter recently that I have posted on the thread, “I’m writing a letter to my favorite Companies” if you want to take a look. However, I’m reaching out to the community here, to ask please write letters too. If you are familiar with this store, you understand that they seem to have a bigger picture in mind… Meaning, they may listen to concerned consumers about environmental issues. Please help if you can.
I’m also reaching out to see if anyone else had additional ideas of what I can do in this situation. Besides writing letters, what more can I do? Suggestions are greatly appreciated!
I’ve whined for years about TJ’s produce packaging and ranted along with other activists, but to date, I haven’t really done much else. Stacey’s post captured my imagination. Would it be worthwhile to start a real, honest-to-goodness campaign to get Trader Joe’s to reduce its plastic packaging? If so, what produce would we want to focus on? What specific, measurable steps would we ask Trader Joe’s to take? How would we approach them?
Last week, I went on a little fact-finding mission to learn whether the produce situation was as bad as it had been several years ago and which items seemed to be the worst offenders. I found some pleasant surprises.
Trader Joe’s Selling More Unpackaged Produce
In the produce section in the Trader Joe’s on College Avenue in Oakland, CA, I found many examples of loose produce being sold right next to its plastic-packaged counterpart. Here are a few examples:
Lemons and limes…
Potatoes and yams…
Still Too Much Packaging?
But there were still items packaged individually in plastic…
And Stacey sent me photos from her Trader Joe’s in NYC showing many more items in plastic packaging without an unpackaged option:
Should We Start a Campaign?
So, what do you think? Is Trader Joe’s offering enough unpackaged options or should they be doing a lot better? Please leave a comment answering the following questions, to give me an idea if this is a campaign worth spending the time and energy on pursuing. As some of you know who were around when I started the Take Back the Filter Brita recycling campaign, I’m not interested in doing things in a half-assed way. There are too many dead petitions on Change.org and Care2 from people who had a good idea, slapped up a petition, and then didn’t have the energy or stubborness to see it through. That’s just not my style. So, here are the questions:
1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s?
2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being.
3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not?
4) Does your Trader Joe’s offer any produce that is not wrapped in plastic? If so, what kinds of things?
5) What items are the worst offenders? What items would you love to see sold unpackaged?
6) If we started a campaign, what which of the following things would you be willing to do?
- Sign a petition
- Write a letter
- Speak to a store manager
- Forward the petition to all of your contacts via email or social media
- Write a letter to the editor
- Contact organizations that might be interested in helping spread the word
- Organize an action at a local Trader Joe’s
- Collect produce packaging from Trader Joe’s (assuming this is stuff you would have bought anyway) to be used for an action
- Take pictures of packaging at Trader Joe’s and upload to a Facebook page
- Create a video of packaging at Trader Joe’s
- Any other ideas?
Thanks! Please forward this post to anyone else you know who might be interested or who has complained about the plastic packaging at Trader Joe’s. Right now, I’m just in the information gathering stage. I don’t want to act until I know there is enough support and that this is a worthwhile action on which to focus.
And now I’ll leave you with an awesome video about just this very topic from a comedian whose rant is way funnier than mine could ever be: