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