Should We Worry About Little Plastic Produce Stickers?
In the comments on my post about toxic food packaging labels, the subject of fruit and vegetable labels came up, those little plastic stickers affixed to almost all grocery store produce these days so cashiers don’t have to memorize the codes.
Back in the day when I was a kid, produce didn’t come with stickers. There were codes ink-stamped on some of the citrus, as I recall, but nothing like the plastic stickers we have today that are especially annoying when attached to soft-skinned fruit like ripe pears and peaches. Don’t you hate when the skin rips off with the sticker?
But what about the adhesive and the tiny bit of plastic the sticker represents? Is it something that should keep us awake at night? My feeling is that no, it should not, and before you crucify me, please let me explain why.
Stickers Differentiate Organic from Non-organic
Devised by the International Federation for Produce Standards, the PLU (Price Look-Up) codes on produce labels help us and grocery store employees differentiate between organic food and non. Four number codes indicate non-organic. Five number codes beginning with 9 indicate organic food. Codes beginning with 8 are supposed to indicate that produce is genetically-modified, but according to Charles Margulis from the Center for Environmental Health, apparently those GMO produce sticker codes are unreliable. Some companies use them and some don’t. So just because a piece of fruit is not labeled with an 8 doesn’t mean it’s not GMO.
Now think about all the chemicals used to grow non-organic foods. And think about the possibility of organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables getting confused by employees at the grocery store. I’d rather have a plastic sticker letting me, and them, know the difference than subject myself to residue from all the petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers used to grow conventional produce. Wouldn’t you?
Stickers Differentiate Local vs. Non
Those stickers also indicate the country and often the state of origin. If you’re concerned about reducing your food miles, it’s nice to know where your produce came from. Do you think a Safeway employee would be able to give you that information without a sticker on the fruit?
What to Do With Produce Stickers
So, you’ve eaten the fruit and still have the plastic sticker hanging around. What do you do with it? Well, certainly don’t put it in your compost bin with the peels, pits, and cores. A Fake Plastic Fish reader commented a while back about tossing all her fruit peels onto the compost pile, stickers and all, and ending up at the end of a season with a big pile of stickers. Throw them in the trash. Or get creative.
Collect them: Apparently, there is a whole community of people dedicated to collecting fruit labels the way people collect stamps. World of Fruit Labels bills itself as “The web’s first and oldest fruit label site. Founded as long ago as May 1999.” The site contains images of and information about over 1,000 different labels.
Make art: Barry Snyder of Stickerman Produce Art collects and makes amazing collage art from produce stickers. From a fruit sticker version of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can to to a beautiful pair of cowboy boots, Barry’s collages depict pretty much anything he thinks of. This one is probably my favorite, but that’s because I’m weird.
You can send your used fruit stickers to Barry at:
Barry “Wildman” Snyder
Erie, CO 80516
Avoiding Plastic Produce Stickers
All that said, I avoid plastic produce stickers. Why? For one, because the goal of my project on Fake Plastic Fish is to see how little plastic waste I can generate, and fruit stickers count as plastic waste. But the biggest reason is because I can!
Farmers Markets: I live in an area with year-round farmers markets, so I never have to buy produce from the grocery store. And none of the fruits and vegetables at the farmers market come with stickers. The vendors know their own produce. They don’t have to memorize hundreds of codes.
CSA’s: another source of stickerless produce is your local CSA, if you have one. Generally that food will be sticker-free as well.
Grow Your Own: If you need to put a sticker on produce you grow in your backyard, I would like to meet you because you are weirder than I am.
Picking Our Battles
We can pick our fruits and noses and battles. Compared to all the other sources of plastic pollution, fruit stickers are the least of our worries. Plus, they are actually useful. On a personal level, look at the areas of your life that still need de-plasticking work. Do you still end up with plastic grocery bags sometimes? Are you menaced by take-out food containers? Do your kids bring home cheap plastic Happy Meal crap? Yes? Then those are the areas I would focus on: remembering our travel mugs and water bottles and reusable bags; refusing plastic packaging as much as possible.
And if fruit stickers are the one last hold out in your quest to get disposable plastic out of your life, maybe it’s time for bigger action. How about getting involved in a campaign to ban or tax disposable bags in your city or state? What about writing to stores that you frequent and asking for more plastic-free options? How about organizing community swap meets so you can reduce the need to buy new durable plastic products? The sky is the limit.
I’m not saying that I think it’s just fine and dandy to have plastic and adhesive stuck to our fruits. I’m just saying I think we have bigger issues to worry about.
Checkout https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sticknix to see how you can help change produce labeling
Until now these labels were not compostable.
Recently we have developed a fruitlabel that’s certified compostable in compliance with EN13432 (US: ASTM6400). The label is made of a bioplastic facestock and our BioTAK(R) adhesive.
So now you can compost the peelings together with the label.
For more info: https://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.biotak.com&h=HAQFGj1tB&s=1.
Hi. Thanks for the link to BioTAK. But do you have a link for the entire label? What is the company that is producing the labels and what is the facestock made from? I would love to know more.
Many printing companies can manufacture this label, key is that you use the right materials, which are compostable (e.g. PLA, NatureFlex, paper) and a compostable adhesive (BioTAK). Since the price is a little higher than conventional materials (which do not even degrade in 200 years!), these compostable labels are rarely seen.
For more info, visit the website or mail to the mail address shown on the website
Thanks for the info.
Unfortunately, the stickers are not just there so that cashiers don’t have to memorize the produce numbers. I bought a box of clementines (Cuties brand) and they were on many of them and there were no produce numbers (the number was on the box), just advertising such as “Cuties are for Kids!”. So they were 100% unnecessary.
Stop buying fruit @ markets that use stickers.
We have to stop giving them money. This is the only way.!!!!!!!!
if we can’t get rid of the stickers, maybe that can at least make them out of PLA so we can compost them? hmmm, probably too much of costly change they’d say. who manufactures them anyway?
@wwwebbs, from Local Nourishment, reminded me to come back to Beth Terry, and I see you’ve an article on this already! I just wrote up my opinion of this on my Psychic Lunch site, but in a nutshell, I think there are viable alternatives to the plastic sticker that producers darned-well ought to be using, like paper stickers or laser branding (which is new to me).
I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed and pushed it to the front of my list, now! I’m glad you have this info out there for us all!
“STICKERS DIFFERENTIATE ORGANIC FROM NON-ORGANIC”
Oh yeah? Not here! All the place I go, there is no organic fruit in bulk. They are all wrapped in plastic ;o( I really don’t think it’s better than the plastic sticker.
The thing I hate the most with them is the glue! I’ve always wondered whether it was safe to eat that glue… you know that often a little bit of glue can remain on your fruit no matter how hard you wash them? Well, I cut that part!
I mean how a glue that can’t be washed with water can be non-harmful??? I’m not chemist but I found it weird!
All these evil ways of slipping plastic into everything we buy has to stop. Fruit used to be one thing you could buy to opt out of plastic. Now you can’t even do that. Those stickers should be biodegradable so that they can go in the compost.
My kids and I collect & send our fruit stickers to Barry. Glad to see you post it for others. :)
you’re always right on top of the things that I’m thinking about. I do save these stickers but I stick them inside my bag a lot and they end up getting fuzzy and useless (my bag is probably full of them). making art with them is another one of those things I’d like to but will never do. good to know I can send them to someone if I ever need to unload them. some of them are paper instead of plastic (though I’m sure the adhesive is still plastic based), though I find those are more likely to take the skin off the fruit for some reason. and as far as the sticker telling you where it’s grown, a lot of the time they’ll say something like “grown in USA” which is not really helpful at all. didn’t know that about the numbers and organic fruit, that’s a useful piece of info.
This is something that I’ve never actually thought about. Beth you are always challenging me.
Luckily most of my produce comes from the farmers market, the co-op, or from the stuff I froze/canned from over the summer to get me through the winter.
Also, I’m not that into bananas. :-)
The bigger issue is the Orwellian state of affairs where the factory farmed, pesticide laced produce is stickerless and organically grown local procude must be marked. Diabolical. An organic apple should be called “an apple” and GMO or chemically farmed appled should be called out for what it is – “industrialized apple.”
I’m so glad I’m not the only person who worries about these things…
We have our own garden, belong to a CSA and frequent the farmers market… I don’t get many stickers EXCEPT… bananas and grapes!!
SO… I’m curious… can you get bananas and grapes completely free from stickers and plastic??
Danielle, I guess it depends on where you live. Unless you live where those things are grown (and if you live in North America, you’re not getting locally-grown bananas), then I don’t think so. As I recall, you can get apple bananas in Hawaii without stickers. Maybe we should all move there. :-)
Where I live we too have a yearround farmers market, though I don’t think the produce is always local although most of it still come from the same region atleast.
There are still a few products sold at my local “farmers” markets that are obviously imported such as bananas and other tropical fruit and still have those stickers on them. But i usually avoid those anyway as there are always several options at the markets that don’t have any of those stickers or any packaging.
A thought I just had is that there little stickers would make a cute and colorful border for a picture frame! I don’t really think it’s the most important thing to worry about with regards to reducing plastics, but if you can find a second use for it, it’s all the better :D
The Chiquita banana ones are paper. Why can’t they all be paper and then we could recycle them?
I’d like to find the person who invented those stickers, and stick a few hundred of them on their clothes.
Why? Because they end up in the wash! Why my kids can’t just put them in the bin instead of their pockets I’ll never know.
Hahaha! I thought I was the only one collecting these stickers! Despite the amount of produce I buy at the farmers market, I still have quite a few! They currently outline my cabinets and molding in my kitchen, but I eventually was going to make a collage :)
If you need to put a sticker on produce you grow in your backyard, I would like to meet you because you are weirder than I am.
This made me laugh. Seriously. Thanks, Beth! ^_^
(By the way, I can’t remember if I mentioned in some previous comment on a previous entry that I gave your name and blog address to the manager of my favorite farmer’s market. Your fame spreads.)
Honestly, I have eaten the stickers and have not died. Yet. Obviously! I simply forget to take them off. If they were edible, might be a new food source! Of course I think it’s asinine they are even there.
I love your perspective on this. You’re right – we have bigger things, much bigger things ahead.
My husband work in sewerage treatment and would you believe that these stickers can cause major problems with filters? A lot of people don’t realise they’re plastic and eat them, others do so inadvertently. They make it all the way to the treatment plant where they get trapped in the finer filters where they cost a lot of money in maintenance.
I understand what you’re saying, and I agree with you.
However, I would really like to see the labeling STOP at the little plastic stickers. What really irritates me is when they wrap big strips of plastic tape that shout ORGANIC around the bananas, or around pre-bagged lettuce, as well. A sticker makes sense. Even the occasional twist-tie thingy like I’ve seen. But reams of plastic tape? It just doesn’t seem necessary.
Just another reason to shop at the farmer’s market, I suppose, and stick to local produce.
About 10 years ago I stayed with a family who used these stickers to collage the molding around their kitchen pass-through window. It was great fun to add some each day – very colorful and creative! not sure it would really “go” in every household…
oh, I’d rather all the options at my store were local and organic, so they don’t need the stickers (no conventional or foreign foods to differentiate from!). But that would mean nothing but canned food in February. Sigh. I do hate the Hungry Gap, but snow is so pretty!
Yes at least they serve a purpose, I guess, I did see a new technology that actually laser cuts the numbers into fruit, it actually seemed really cool, no ink just penetrates the skin just enough to mark it. I saw it on the food channel.
Beany, I’m not sure that liking the same thing you like makes me not weird. Just saying. Smooches.
Ha! I love Zappa, so you’re most certainly not weird.
And I’ve been being more diligent about avoiding getting those damn stickers too. Very annoying.