The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

June 3, 2011

Little Plastic Fruit Label Stickers: Another Source of Water Pollution

A year ago I explained everything you ever wanted to know about plastic produce stickers: what they are for, what you can do with them, and whether we should spend time worrying about them.  After all, they make up a minute fraction of the plastic that’s finding its way into the environment.

What I didn’t know then was that my local utility district, EBMUD, considered produce stickers enough of a problem that it published an article about them in its January/February 2009 issue of Pipeline (PDF), the newsletter that goes out to its customers.  In fact, waste water treatment facilities are not equipped to deal with these little pieces of plastic when flushed down the drain, and they clog filters or end up in the Bay or ocean.

Here is the text of the Pipeline article:

Bay Pollution Prevention Corner
An Itty Bitty Fruit Label Alert

A recent customer survey shows us that EBMUD customers are greatly concerned about the health of San Francisco Bay. You can really help. Who knew those little plastic stickers on fruits and vegetables could cause a big problem? Surprisingly, those little stickers, and myriad other plastics, such as food wrap and sandwich bags, are washed down home drains all too frequently. They can end up in a variety of places — stuck in your drain, or stuck on wastewater treatment plant pumps and hoses, or caught in screens and filters. Even worse, they can end up in San Francisco Bay. Some plastics neither float nor sink, making it difficult to remove them in any wastewater treatment process. Unfortunately, they can end up where no one wants them — in the bay and the ocean.

In this case, there’s an easy, no-cost solution.  You can prevent pollution by always removing plastic stickers and wrappers, placing them in the garbage before you wash and peel your fruits and vegetables. Remember, too, that plastics should not go into garbage disposals (which waste water and energy and send even smaller bits of plastic down the drain), nor do they belong in your garden compost or green bin.

So, as I mentioned in my article last year, you can often avoid those plastic stickers by shopping at the farmers market, joining a CSA, or even growing your own produce.  But if you do have to buy fruits and vegetables with plastic labels, make sure you remove them before tossing fruit peels in the compost or especially down the garbage disposal.

This has been your weekend public service announcement.  Cheers!

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11 years ago

yikes! typo that should have been peel. oh well.

11 years ago

Here is the email that I sent to the source of most of my fruit labels

Yesterday, I was munching on a delicious Jonagold apple from Viva Tierra (94147) while catching up on the reading of my favorite blog. The June 3, 2011 post is all about how the little plastic fruit stickers plague our water treatment facilities.

It would be super if Viva Tierra and CF Fresh used stickers that were less hazardous to our waterways. I certainly would prefer to peal paper stickers than plastic stickers from my fruits and veggies. If those stickers could be made from post-consumer recycled paper that would be even better.

I will post the response when/if it arrives.

12 years ago

Frank, you mean someone actually collects these dreadful little labels? However I note he’s in Germany so I’m not going to be paying 90cents postage to send them there and also his labels look like artworks, whereas the ones I get are very dull. Thanks for the link anyway.

12 years ago

Dear anti-plastic-fans, you may be interested in disposing off your unwanted fruitlabels most environment friendly by donating them to a fruitlabel collector…


12 years ago

I save mine and put them on waxed paper and send to a friend of a friend who creates art with them. at least they are repurposed and the pieces turn out really cool! not sure about the glue but could use for a fun project with kids…?

Jeri Walker
12 years ago

In reading all of these comments, I found myself nodding and saying, “Yep” to most of them. I find them in my compost bin all the time, and I live alone! I can’t imagine how many I would have if I still had kids in the house! Annoying. I don’t have a garbage disposal, so no problem there.

12 years ago

While I in no way am defending the use of the little stickers on fruits & veggies, I did find something that makes removing them a little more fun. An “apple a day” (or other fruits & vegs) calendar for putting the stickers on. Kinda cute.

Harold Johnson
12 years ago

I was tilling the soil in my condo garden plot in early spring, and what popped up? A sticker from a cantaloupe. Someone had plopped the cantaloupe rind into the composter last year or the year before; I transferred it to my soil last fall; it overwintered, and came up looking just like new. I also find these dumb stickers at the beach almost every week in the summer. Found one just today. Hate them.

Lori Popkewitz Alper
12 years ago

I HATE those little stickers. The plastic sticker, the adhesive and the time spent scraping off the remains of the adhesive make me crazy. I also find them stuck in random places all over my house thanks to my kids. There must be a better way.

12 years ago

You inspired me to spread the news about fruit stickers and poisonous glues! Thanks for the information! I had always been annoyed by the fruit stickers making holes in my fruit and trashing up my compost, but I never realized they were a water pollution hazard.

Stephanie - Green Stay at Home Mom
12 years ago

I loathe those things. They’re just obnoxious. I can hardly wait for my garden to start producing this year. It’s a small one, but still, any produce without those stickers is much more fun to deal with.

Daniel Sciarra
12 years ago

I consider myself green – and am lucky enough to have a green job. After finding your site (and thinking it great) I took stock of the items in my home and was shocked how far down the rabbit hole I really am. Thank you for your eye opening and humbling work – ds

Julia, Do more feel Good
12 years ago

Wow!….I never would have thought that those plastic stickers would be such a problem! Whenever I encounter them they always go to in the trash. How necessary are those things anyway?!

12 years ago

I just harvested my worm composting bin and found about half a dozen of those damn stickers in there even though I am the main one prepping produce in my house and managing the compost bin. Stupid plastic stickers.

12 years ago

Thanks for the heads-up! I’ve been tossing mine into the green bag. I guess I assumed that stickers on fruit must be compostable. How naive of me.

12 years ago

so these are not compostable?
they are just annoying to begin with, but i have been putiing them in the compost, i was even told the are safe to human consumption (if you swallow them by mistake i assumed)
why even one of the most natural food items have to be contaminated with plastic???

12 years ago

I once saw an interview with the head of the Dole Banana company in which he went to great lengths to defend those little stickers claiming his “right” to market his brand name. It was painfully obvious that the man had never been in a grocery store in his life, and he seemed totally oblivious to the realities of shopping. That and the fact that he disclosed that the company’s number one cost was petroleum pretty much got me off eating bananas altogether!

Of course… this year I cracked because I read that banana peels can prevent aphids from destroying your cruciferous veggies. The good news is that it really does seem to be working, and I’m enjoying delicious kale & collards with NO aphids… and I even have little heads of broccoli forming. Whether the good of growing my own broccoli outweighs the bad of eating some imported bananas is still an open question.

Andy Curshen
12 years ago

I too hate those damned stickers the supermarkets stick on every darned piece of fruit and vegetable. I understand their need to have them for pricing and inventory purposes but they need to find an adhesive that doesn’t adhere too strongly to the the skin. I recall that when we were getting New Zealand apples (very few now as the WA producers squeezed them out) the sticker was very easy to remove and didn’t pull a piece of the skin with it. It still doesn’t solve the pollution problem of course. I have seen paper stickers as well which would biodegrade or compost. We need to complain to the store managers of every supermarket we buy fruit and veggies from and urge them to use a paper sticker that has an adhesive that makes it easy to peal them off. Store managers do not know the plastic stickers are a problem. We need to let them know that it is., Thanks Beth for drawing this to our attention

Betsy (Eco-novice)
12 years ago

I hated these stickers when they came out and cannot believe they are still around. I keep a paper taped above my sink to stick them onto, so they are a little easier to get rid of. I LOVE it when I can buy produce at the farmer’s market (or through my CSA) without stickers. Another bonus of shopping direct from the producer.

12 years ago

What irks me no end is when I peel off the stickers and they leave bits of adhesive on my fruit. Who knows what’s in that?

I opt for farmers’ market produce as much as possible, and this year I’ll be participating in a CSA. But I live in Canada, and there are limits to how far that gets me. Really, I think we just need to find a better way to handle fruit at the grocery store.

knutty knitter
12 years ago

I hate having to remove those stupid things – perhaps we need a campaign to prevent their use.

viv in nz

Kathy G
12 years ago

Thanks for the information. I find the stickers annoying, but never thought about how they could cause a problem.

12 years ago

My CSA bag for the summer will be starting soon. Yeah! In the meantime I am thinking I might stop on my way out of the store and stick all of the little plastic stickers onto a suggeston card. While I’m at it, maybe I will give them back the rubber bands and plastic ties on brocoli, etc.

@Eve It might not be such a good idea to stick them on the bottles you put in the recycle bin. The plastic may not be the same. I would think the stickers should go int hte garbage. Beth?

Reenie R
12 years ago

On soft fruit and veggies, I slice the portion of fruit w/labels off, then toss them in the trash.

Nan Sea Love
12 years ago

Thank you for posting. i was told years ago the glue used to attach these is toxic yet could not find anything online to substantiate or further educate about that, i always remove before composting food, will share on facebook and on twitter. ?

Eve Stavros
12 years ago

I try try try to buy fruits & veg w/o those darn things, but in the event that I cannot, I’ve hit upon a solution. I stick them on the few (and I really do mean few & unavoidable) plastic items I put in the recycling bin, figuring a plastic label on a plastic bottle or bottlecap makes sense. Am I wrong in this thinking???

Nan Sea Love
12 years ago

i was told several years ago the glues used were toxic by a fire inspector who had ties to 3M but could not find any online information to substantiate or further educate about labels. i always remove them before composting food. Thank you so much, will share on facebook and twitter.

12 years ago

Thanks!! Great reminder, I’ll have to go back and find your previous post.

I have mentioned these little stickers to our local co-op (Upper Valley Co-Op White River Jct, VT rocks!!) but I may have to bring it up again with this information. I’m sure these have ended up in my compost from banana peels or other produce when I don’t pay attention or notice. They are sneeky little pesks!

I don’t have a garbage disposal so I’m very careful about not putting food or other waste down my sinks.

12 years ago

Oh, boy. I hate those little things. I can think of numerous times when I’ve washed my fruit only to realize I never removed the sticker I know was on there, but no longer is… I can’t wait for my garden veggies – no stickers!

12 years ago

I also hate that it damages the fruit when you try to remove the little stickers.