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!