The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
September 25, 2013

Another Trader Joe’s Rant. This Time It’s Ice Cream.

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Okay, before you read my ice cream rant, please sign the petition asking Trader Joe’s to reduce its plastic produce packaging. After my own produce packaging rant last year, I didn’t have time to start a campaign, but luckily others at the Plastic Pollution Coalition did!

Okay… the ice cream…

Usually, my home ice cream consumption looks something like this…

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Ice cream from Tara’s Organic in either my own container (if I plan ahead) or their compostable bagasse container, which is made from sugarcane waste and is completely plastic-free except for the sticker they slap on it. (Gotta chat with them about that.)

And of course homemade chocolate syrup!

But the other night, it was late, I was tired and frustrated about something (It was a couple weeks ago, so I don’t remember why I was frustrated), and I just wanted ice cream.  I wanted it bad. But Tara’s was closed and Trader Joe’s was open. So I weighed my options, searched my feelings, and after rationalizing like crazy, made the decision to go get a quart of TJ’s ice cream, which I knew came in a plastic-coated cardboard carton with a thin plastic safety seal around the outside of the lid.

You know how you can tell how bad I wanted it? I was willing to walk to TJ’s in the dark and risk being mugged by all the mugging muggers in my neighborhood (It’s bad in Oakland these days. Michael narrowly missed being mugged on his way to work last week. Sorry… I figured while I was ranting, I’d rant about this too.)  So I grabbed a Maglite, tucked my money and ID into my bra, and headed out to that bastion of plastic packaging, Trader Joe’s.

After returning home safely with adrenaline rushing through my body, I tore off the plastic seal and discovered… the quart container now has a hard plastic rim around the lid!

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The rim used to be cardboard, but suddenly it’s changed. And you know what? The new lid isn’t even easier to use. It’s hard as the dickens to remove and cuts into my fingers. So there’s not even a logical reason for adding extra plastic to the container.

But TJ’s isn’t the only one. I’ve noticed Three Twins Organic ice cream suddenly has a hard plastic rim too. What’s up with the extra plastic, guys?

I’m going to calm down before I write them or tweet them. I just hosted a #holisticmoms Twitter chat tonight about peaceful activism, after all.

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Let’s see… what else can I get off my chest tonight? Oh! I came home from Hawaii with yet another head cold this year.  But at least the mosquito bites are better. When none of the natural remedies would work, I finally gave in and bought this stuff from the drug store in a plastic tube. I’m just full of rants and confessions tonight.

Would any of you care to rant, confess, or both? Go for it.

48 comments
CyndiNorwitz
CyndiNorwitz

"...Is completely plastic-free except for the sticker they slap on it. (Gotta chat with them about that.)"

How about you chat with ME about that?

I'm a small manufacturer making organic soap.  The bar soap is packaged in biodegradable/compostable cellophane (from birch trees) but I can not for the life of me find compostable labels.  I look online, I call places, I go to Expo West every year and I search, without any luck.

There are some labels called biodegradable but I haven't researched it because they don't go through digital printers.  You have to order them with plates, which is more expense and work than I can deal with, but I will do it if that's my only option.  For some reason, no one has yet bothered to adjust the digital printers to accept the biodegradable labels (PLA? I think that's the name).

When I talk to label printing companies they generally haven't a clue what I'm talking about and say they can do it when they really mean "green" labels (less plastic, soy ink, or *horrors* plastic that degrades into tiny little bits).  The ones that do know what they're talking about tell me the issue is not the paper or the ink but the adhesive.

All I want is a basic stick-on label that will stay put on cellophane, won't cost a fortune (which means I need smaller runs and generally this means digital printing), where you can throw the entire wrapper into your compost.  Does not need to be waterproof.  I am open to size and shape (within the basic constraints I have), number of colors, sheen, texture, etc. Needs to be low-toxic over all, not just in terms of compost-friendly.

I've been looking for years.  If you have the solution, please share it!!  (for the good of the earth, not just because I'll bring you some soap next time I'm in Oakland as a thank you :-))

Tanya
Tanya

Once upon a time I used to shop at Trader Joe's all the time but I seriously haven't shopped there in about 6 years now as I too was shocked by all the packaging.  I understand that some level of packaging is required (like milk) but apples!  Come on!  And Whole Foods is becoming just as bad... I try to stick to Rainbow as much as possible but even there was totally shocked when I saw one of the workers dumping out bags of cherries (packaged in plastic bags) so that people could buy them in bulk and just put them in another plastic bag!  Even in restaurants, the food may not be presented to you with any plastic in sight but I've witnessed tons of excess waste behind the scenes.  I think the only way to get around the whole plastic dilemma is to grow your own food.

Briena Sash
Briena Sash

Thank you for being open to alternatives, Neal... I think it would be amazing to see Three Twins be a leader in the industry and start a trend of plastic-free ice cream containers.

My Plastic-free Life
My Plastic-free Life

Neal, so the choice is between wasting some ice cream, which is biodegradable and non-toxic, and using packaging made from fossil fuels and toxic chemicals that will never biodegrade. Perhaps we can get the Plastic Pollution Coalition involved in helping find a more appropriate solution.

Briena Sash
Briena Sash

Neal... Thanks for your response! I found your initial response to my original comment on your page to be dissatisfying... I wasn't convinced that you had genuine concern or interest in seeking environmentally friendly options for a safety seal. I was especially surprised by this, considering the verbiage on your cartons, which eludes to a desire for sustainability. I wasn't satisfied with your response that customers were requesting safety seals, because I go to my local grocery store and see many ice cream brands using the same, old-fashioned cardboard containers (albeit, unfortunately, coated in plastic rather than wax). The safety seal Three Twins chose to use for their new containers uses an excessive amount of plastic. It seems, even choosing the thin plastic tear-off seal that some ice cream companies use would greatly reduce the amount of plastic waste your packaging contains. I see smarter, more earth friendly alternatives. You could consult an amazing anti-plastic guru, such as Beth to seek alternatives. I have high standards for the companies I support. I love to promote amazing companies like yours... I will promote you with all my heart and make sure that all my friends and family are choosing your ice cream (and I have)... because you're the best! ... But I also have high standards. One of the most important of which is environmental footprint. I would love to see Three Twins acting as a leader and seeking alternative packaging. And when you do... I will be one of your most loyal patrons.

Neal Gottlieb
Neal Gottlieb

Retailers were also bothers by the fact that our containers were not tamper evident, which caused challenges in getting into certain retailers. Given the choice of wasting lots of ice cream and containers because lids were coming off and product was being thrown out or switching to a tamper evident lid, I decided to go with the tamper evident lid, which would allow us to get more organic food out to the world. Tamper evident systems all include plastic (as do those paper ice cream containers...they are all coated with a thin layer of plastic) and can cost a great deal. The only choice that was practical was the tamper evident lids that have a plastic ring. I will be happy to switch to a non-plastic alternative when one is available.

Neal Gottlieb
Neal Gottlieb

Briena, I am curious what was inane and defensive sbout my response to your comment about our use of lids that contain plastic. When we used coated paper lids we had on ongoing problem with lids coming off at retailers, causing product to be thrown out and retailers threatening to drop our products if we did not switch to a tamper evident lid.

terrible person
terrible person

Thank you for adding the "previous post" and "next post" buttons ... they make it a lot easier to catch up on your writings!

jonnie
jonnie

Commercial Flight longer than hour = colds for everyone in my family! I think it's all that recirculated air...

Briena Sash
Briena Sash

Thank you so much for addressing Three Twins! They were my FAVORITE ice cream until they implemented their new (ridiculous) plastic seal. I contacted them directly in concern and received a rather inane, defensive response. I was hoping others would chime in to back me up. :)

Susan Stewart
Susan Stewart

Do ask these companies first about what it is. I learned something recently. I was at an event where all styrofoam was banned, and yet there was this styrofoam cup being sold! I went to tell on these guys, only to find that it was a new product made from corn, and supposedly compostable. But it looked just like styrofoam. Yet this vendor really did go out of their way to find a green alternative. And now i feel mixed up about this--if non-plastic/green products have a bad rep for being untrustworthy (and we should admit they probably do), then maybe companies are making green products disguised the regular plastic stuff, so people still feel confident in using them? And that is now confusing us all?

BringYourOwnBag
BringYourOwnBag

Do you know if there is any activism being done around convincing milk and juice companies to stop using plastic caps on their cardboard cartons, like in the "old days"?  After seeing them in the stomach contents of birds in the Bag It! movie, I have often thought it would be a good pressure point...

veganmama
veganmama

Have you ranted about the organic avocados in the plastic netting at Trader Joe's yet? Just wondering because it's been on my rant list  for a while . . . .  sorry to hear about the head cold . . . best stay away from dairy anyway : /

My Plastic-free Life
My Plastic-free Life

Mark Read the post and you'll see why I went there. I don't usually shop there anymore for just that reason. Jennifer Creek Sant'Anna, that's one of my favorites too. In fact, I think I included it in my original Trader Joe's rant!

Mark Duncan
Mark Duncan

Jennifer, that's one of my favorites of his bits. If you like podcasts, you have to check his out — hilariously about nothing.

Mark Duncan
Mark Duncan

I don't know why you shop there. They package their produce in trays.

Caralien Miller Speth
Caralien Miller Speth

Our local place, Halo Farm, sells plastic-free ice cream pints. We compost the cartons.

SarahKathrynSchumm
SarahKathrynSchumm

I confess I've slacked off a lot as far as letting plastic creep back into my life. I even bought a clamshell of strawberries today. :( I might need to go back and look at my own YouTube. The weird thing is, so many habits have stuck that even when I'm slacking I make so much less trash then I used to. 

Angus Murray
Angus Murray

I have an ice cream company. We were about to switch to the plastic rim lids as it's a much better & safer 'tamper evident' system, but I've changed my mind after reading this - we're going to stick with the current paper system (50% post consumer content) and deal with it another way. Thanks.

jtwilkins
jtwilkins

I follow your blog so obviously I am not big on plastic but from a packaging standpoint I really like the new lids. My family is vegan with two toddlers and we eat a lot of TJs vegan ice cream. Without fail the old lid would bend, crinkle and get destroyed. Once it was opened it also made a very poor seal causing the ice cream to get frosty freezer burn and ruin the taste. 

I am willing to guess they can come up with a more improved all paper container but this lid is a improvement for us. 

Cbuilder
Cbuilder

I have a love-hate relationship with TJs too. I don't go often, or didn't until recently, because I'm not that enamored with what they have to offer and the plastic produce has always bothered me. Plus they aren't very convenient for me to get to and since I don't own a car, that's always first and foremost these days. They do, however, have really cheap decent wine and that is my downfall. On one of these rare trips, I also picked up some goat yogurt for my youngest son, who doesn't do cows milk yet and had rejected all other goat products thus far. He loved it, and won't touch the goat yogurt from the local place I usually shop. I don't know what it is about the TJ's yogurt that makes all the difference. So now, about once every week or two I buy the yogurt in the plastic container, at the place far away. And usually pick up some wine and chocolate too... maybe eventually I'll figure out making my own yogurt and he'll actually like it. (Now to get my sister's goats producing more milk so I can get a regular supply!)

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Well, my solution to the ice cream dilemma is to just not buy it for home consumption. Truth be told, this has nothing to do with plastic or packaging, and everything to do with self control - an area in which I am sorely lacking! If I buy a quart of ice cream, I'm gonna eat the whole thing. Maybe not all in one sitting, but no way that sucker makes it a week in my home. So, if I really, REALLY have to have ice cream, I go to the ice cream parlor and do it right. That way it really feels like a treat, and I don't have to worry about losing the inevitable self control battle when I hear the siren song calling from the freezer! :-)

Melody
Melody

The one thing I regularly buy at Trader Joe's is maple syrup.  The have the big glass bottle with a small plastic-lined lid.  Instead of much smaller glass bottles I find at other stores with big plastic lids.



Blessed
Blessed

Well, you see Beth, I think all that plastic around Trader Joe's food is to protect it well on its long journey from China.  Yes, even the ice cream.  I'm not joking--they are very careful NOT to disclose where their food comes from, even on their website. 

Still, TJ's has been my reducing plastic folly too.  I have been slowly reducing our plastic consumption, but run up against one wall--organic in plastic bags is almost always cheaper than individual servings not in plastic. : (  Feeding my family well has to come before reducing plastic, and so I find myself reaching for those bagged avocados at TJs, bagged organic carrots at Costco. . . Even at my local bakery I can find great breads at 1/2 price--if they are day olds wrapped in plastic bags. : (

KatieS
KatieS

I've only been to Trader Joe's once (3 hours away), and walking in I was appalled at the amount of plastic  packaging on the produce.  I wasn't even thinking that way when I walked in.  Way worse than the local Safeway or City Market in my own town.

jonnie
jonnie

well, hmmm, ..welcome back?!

Won't catch me in a TJ's. Don't get the attraction. That said, ya do what ya gotta do! 

Thanks for the link. We should all sign, pressure/publicity does work.

Tanya
Tanya

@Neal Gottlieb Hi Neil-

I'm with Briena on this one... I understand trying to please your retailers but if the consumers stop buying your product, then the retailers also will stop carrying your product...  And trust me, I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your ice cream!  So not buying it is not easy! :) But unlike Briena I'm lazy and don't always write the companies when I'm unhappy about something, I just simply stop buying their stuff especially when there is so much competition around.  In addition, to the environmental impact of those lids, they are really hard to remove!  You had a perfectly, perfect product so why did you have to tamper with it? And FYI I met your twin once a long time ago (pre-lid controversy), a friend of a friend type thing. 

Tanya
Tanya

@Briena Sash Hi Briena-


I'll totally back you up.  :)  Three Twins was also my absolute FAVORITE ice cream (cookies and cream & salted caramel to be exact) and was totally disheartened to see the new plastic ring (which is totally hard to get off by the way).  But unlike you I'm a lazy activist and just simply ended up boycotting them which in theory would be better for my waistline but not really because now I've just switched over to chocolate instead...

White Conch
White Conch

@BringYourOwnBag  Thanks for bringing this up. Plastic caps ending up in Bird and Fish Stomachs is not cool! I boycott everybody that has these still. And only use those that do not. Maybe more companies will realize they can make more money by changing their packaging to being more environmentally friendly after they see this as a growing trend category. But to me,.it's just returning to what my Grandmother's kitchen looked like...No Plastics!

White Conch
White Conch

@veganmama Thanks for bringing this up. Any type of netting is not cool. Any company with nets won't be getting my money.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@veganmama Oh for sure.  The last ice cream I had was an ice cream cone at Lappert's in Hawaii.  No desire for anything dairy-related right now.  Not much desire for food period.  Just drinking lots of non-dairy liquids. Trying to stay hydrated.  And no -- I haven't ranted about the avocados specifically, but they fall under the general category of plastic produce packaging.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Angus Murray That's great.  What ice cream company is it?  I think the previous lid was pretty tamper resistant with the plastic seal around the rim.  Now they've added extra plastic because they are still covering the hard plastic rim with the plastic film seal.  What will be your alternative?

Angus Murray
Angus Murray

@jtwilkins As an ice cream company owner, can I recommend you use a section of wax paper or food wrap (you can reuse it many times) to tamp on top of the ice cream when you're done serving it & put the lid over the top? It makes a huge difference to the quality of the product over time so and keeps much longer - I personally use a small section of Kirkland food wrap and press it on top of the divots made by the spoon. 

SarahKathrynSchumm
SarahKathrynSchumm

@Cbuilder If you are in California some Big Lots sell better cheap wine. It's actually usually good wine that there is a surplus of. Also Grocery Outlet has an amazing cheap good wine section, along with plastic free produce. 

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Honestly, that is usually my strategy too. And I'll get a cone and avoid all containers and utensils. But at least, when I do want some at home, Tara's has compostable containers if I forget mine. And there wasn't anyone open at 9:30pm to make me an ice cream cone.

CyndiNorwitz
CyndiNorwitz

@BethTerry They do imply they print PLA digitally.  I'll call them on Monday and find out.  Do you support PLA?  I know little about it, save that it is THE label people mention when you say you want "biodegradable."

Since you had said you wanted to talk with that other company about their labels I thought maybe you had the solution.  Sometimes it's not so easy.  Sometimes it's not just that you can't find the perfect solution but that the good one isn't even out there.  I can't tell you how many leads I've pursued, but I'll call this one as promised.

veganmama
veganmama

@White Conch @veganmama You're most welcome White Conch! I see plastic net bags for everything from avocados to citrus and garlic ~ it drives me crazy! I'm not 100% plastic-free, but I'm headed more and more in that direction every week. I rarely shop at grocery stores, maybe once a month. I've made my own cat food and almond milk for a decade.  I used to mindlessly buy things like avocados in net bags and then I saw Chris Jordan's dead albatross image on Beth's first blog, 'Fake Plastic Fish' . . . it changed my life forever . . . 

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

Actually, I'm not sure how late Tara's is open, but it's further to walk... not a great idea at night... what with all the robbers and all.

CyndiNorwitz
CyndiNorwitz

@BethTerry Sorry I didn't think to ask her name.  I told the receptionist I wanted sales and she asked if this was my first time calling.  The woman she sent me to said she was in customer service.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

This sounds fabulous. Did you get the name of the person you talked to? I'd like to interview the company. You can email me directly at beth at myplasticfreelife dot com.

CyndiNorwitz
CyndiNorwitz

@BethTerry Just got off the phone with them.  And thank you wow!  All of their labels are digitally printed.  The biostone sounds awesome and yes I can throw the whole thing in the compost (I assume there is a peel off backing and I don't know what that's made out of but the label I give to the consumer can all go in the compost).  They also do PLA digitally but say they aren't compostable (I had the impression they were based on conversations with other manufacturers but I think they were hedging).

Down side?  A bit pricey.  Though prices drop fast when you get more labels.  Still going to run me at least 20-30 cents per label (standard plastic ones are 10-12 cents IIRC, been a while since I ordered them).

Another up side?  They're water resistant.  I'll have to run tests but she said other bath and body care manufacturers have used them.  This means I can have better labels on those products (I also make liquid soap and shampoo) even if the containers don't go in the compost.  Plus, if I use the same size as the soap bars, my label price will drop.

Oh and she'll be telling "upper management" about your blog, as I told her you're the one who referred me.

I'll let you know how the samples work out.  This is so awesome and really very very hard to find.  You got lucky with your search.  Really.

Next job for you: get organic (and non) produce packers to use compostable labels for fruits and vegetables.  Seriously, I have 4 year old home compost and you can still read those damn labels.

Thanks again!

Cyndi

Tikvah Organics


CyndiNorwitz
CyndiNorwitz

@BethTerry Oh!  Those look cool.  When I clicked on the link yesterday, it came up as an error so I simply went to the main home page to see what I could find.  I'll give them a call after I take my daughter to school today.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@CyndiNorwitz LOL.  It's the link I posted -- I think you must have clicked to another page to see the PLA labels.  But that link should take you to the BioStone labels, which are made from minerals.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@CyndiNorwitz @BethTerry Yeah, I wanted to talk to them but I don't have the answer yet.  Would the biostone not work?  I'm not a huge fan of PLA because it's usually made from GMO corn.