For weeks, I’ve been choosing frozen entrees in pressboard trays over those in plastic trays, thinking that the only plastic waste was the film overwrap. Now, I find out that the cardboard tray itself is coated with a layer of PET plastic. I found this out through a very nice e-mail exchange and telephone interview with Stephen Moore, CEO of Helen’s Foods.
Before I continue with the plastic talk, I do want to say that Helen’s Kitchen farfalle & basil pesto with tofu steaks is hands down the best tasting frozen meal I have ever eaten. It’s certified organic, GMO-free, vegetarian, and just plain delicious. It would take me a day to prepare something this good from scratch. So it’s with a heavy heart that I continue my report on the product’s plastic content.
According to Moore, and from research I’ve done online, there is basically no way these days to create a frozen entree without plastic if it must be cooked. Frozen entree containers must be able to contain liquids, including oils, and withstand high heat in both the microwave and the oven. (Yes, there are still people who choose to cook frozen dinners in the oven rather than the microwave.) Biodegradable plastic, then, is not an option because by its nature, it degrades with heat. That’s kind of the point.
Because of the plastic coating in the pressboard trays, they are not recyclable or compostable. In an effort to be more “environmentally friendly,” Helen’s Foods is switching to CPET plastic trays (#1), which theoretically are recyclable. But theoretically recyclable and actually recyclable are not necessarily the same thing.
Here in the Bay Area, I can’t find any place to recycle #1 black plastic trays. Oakland, where I live, only collects narrow-necked bottles. In addition to bottles, San Francisco recycles containers #2, #4, & #5. Daly City, where I work, collects all containers #1 – #7; all, that is, except black plastic! So for me, these containers are non-recyclable plastic.
And whether or not you live in an area that recycles #1 black plastic containers, the fact remains that these containers are made from virgin petroleum, a non-renewable and highly polluting (as well as political) natural resource. And there doesn’t seem to be any way around it. If you want the convenience of packaged frozen entrees, you have to take the plastic with it. Period.
So, I’ve done my duty. I’ve given you the facts. The delicious as well as the dismal. Now it’s up to each of us to decide what we will buy.