The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 4, 2012

What Do You Think of the Plastic Produce Packaging at Trader Joe’s Nowadays?

Six years ago, Michael and I got a notice that a Trader Joe’s grocery store was going to be opening down the street from our house. This was back before I had woken up to the problems with plastic, and the news thrilled me. I had visions of all the fresh salads I was going to buy on my way to work every day. And then a few months later, I saw a photo of a dead albatross chick filled with plastic, and I started attempting to live plastic-free.  By the time the new Trader Joe’s opened, I could no longer shop there. The only department where I could find anything not packaged in plastic was the liquor aisle.

What seemed to be the most egregious misuse of plastic was in the produce aisle. While most grocery stores–even mainstream stores like Safeway–carried loose produce, Trader Joe’s seemed to only sell produce in plastic-wrapped multi-packs or plastic net bags. And while some of its produce containers were made from PLA, a compostable type of plastic, the containers are only compostable in special industrial composting facilities, and the fact is that PLA is made from mainly GMO corn, which is grown using vast amounts of chemicals.  What’s more, the compostable trays were wrapped in non-compostable plastic film.  And the question remained, why did produce need to be wrapped in the first place?

Fast forward to last week. Blog reader Stacey in NYC wrote the following post in the My Plastic-Free Life Discussion Forum:

I want to start off by saying I’m a big fan of the grocery store, Trader Joe’s. They are a really cool store with great products and they stand behind their products. I’ve also found their sales associates to be very friendly and helpful.

However, they wrap most of their fresh produce in plastic! I’m obviously preaching the the choir here when I say this is so disturbing. I wrote them a letter recently that I have posted on the thread, “I’m writing a letter to my favorite Companies” if you want to take a look. However, I’m reaching out to the community here, to ask please write letters too. If you are familiar with this store, you understand that they seem to have a bigger picture in mind… Meaning, they may listen to concerned consumers about environmental issues. Please help if you can.

I’m also reaching out to see if anyone else had additional ideas of what I can do in this situation. Besides writing letters, what more can I do? Suggestions are greatly appreciated!

I’ve whined for years about TJ’s produce packaging and ranted along with other activists, but to date, I haven’t really done much else. Stacey’s post captured my imagination. Would it be worthwhile to start a real, honest-to-goodness campaign to get Trader Joe’s to reduce its plastic packaging? If so, what produce would we want to focus on? What specific, measurable steps would we ask Trader Joe’s to take? How would we approach them?

Last week, I went on a little fact-finding mission to learn whether the produce situation was as bad as it had been several years ago and which items seemed to be the worst offenders.  I found some pleasant surprises.

Trader Joe’s Selling More Unpackaged Produce

In the produce section in the Trader Joe’s on College Avenue in Oakland, CA, I found many examples of loose produce being sold right next to its plastic-packaged counterpart. Here are a few examples:

Bell peppers…



Lemons and limes…


Potatoes and yams…

Still Too Much Packaging?

But there were still items packaged individually in plastic…


And Stacey sent me photos from her Trader Joe’s in NYC showing many more items in plastic packaging without an unpackaged option:

Should We Start a Campaign?

So, what do you think? Is Trader Joe’s offering enough unpackaged options or should they be doing a lot better? Please leave a comment answering the following questions, to give me an idea if this is a campaign worth spending the time and energy on pursuing. As some of you know who were around when I started the Take Back the Filter Brita recycling campaign, I’m not interested in doing things in a half-assed way. There are too many dead petitions on and Care2 from people who had a good idea, slapped up a petition, and then didn’t have the energy or stubborness to see it through. That’s just not my style. So, here are the questions:

1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s?
2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being.
3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not?
4) Does your Trader Joe’s offer any produce that is not wrapped in plastic? If so, what kinds of things?
5) What items are the worst offenders? What items would you love to see sold unpackaged?
6) If we started a campaign, what which of the following things would you be willing to do?

    • Sign a petition
    • Write a letter
    • Speak to a store manager
    • Forward the petition to all of your contacts via email or social media
    • Write a letter to the editor
    • Contact organizations that might be interested in helping spread the word
    • Organize an action at a local Trader Joe’s
    • Collect produce packaging from Trader Joe’s (assuming this is stuff you would have bought anyway) to be used for an action
    • Take pictures of packaging at Trader Joe’s and upload to a Facebook page
  • Create a video of packaging at Trader Joe’s
  • Any other ideas?

Thanks! Please forward this post to anyone else you know who might be interested or who has complained about the plastic packaging at Trader Joe’s. Right now, I’m just in the information gathering stage. I don’t want to act until I know there is enough support and that this is a worthwhile action on which to focus.

And now I’ll leave you with an awesome video about just this very topic from a comedian whose rant is way funnier than mine could ever be:

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Etsy handmade and vintage

I only post ads for companies I patronize myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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1) Yes 2) Tucson 3) Yes, TJ’s is becoming unfriendly to single people, also in their dated products. Unless, of course, I could shop daily. 4) Some fruits and vegetables, but less so than packaged. 5) Organic: Zuccini, yellow squash, butternut squash, grapes, apples, tomatoes, potatoes of all kinds, avocados, citrus, peppers, cucumbers, jicama, onions, … I could probably think of more. But you get the point. 6) Sign a petition and forward it, if it’s to the corporate leaders. Local management doesn’t always have much power though they listen. Also, send them the attached audio comedy act! Brilliant and… Read more »


1) Yes
2) Santa Barbara
3) Yes, most of the local stores offer package-free produce
4) Apples, bell peppers, onions and tomatoes
5) Squash, zucchini, fresh garlic and asparagus
6) Sign a petition, write a letter, and take pictures of packaging and speak to a store manager

Jessica M MacGregor

Please tell me how I can be a part of this!! TJs is the only grocery store in my neighborhood (I live in DC) and I shop there almost exclusively. It’s super affordable and has great products which I love buuut the plastic thing really grinds my gears. I find the packaged produce to be the worst offender, and while some veggies come in plastic and non plastic options (as the pictures in this article show), I find myself purchasing way more plastic than necessary. I would be open to signing a petition, writing a letter, posting pics to fb,… Read more »

Karla Mundy

Thank you so much!! Yes!!!! I shop at Trader Joes – in Seattle and I love the store while really hating how much plastic packaging they use. I think that they over package their produce (wrapped bell peppers on trays is really irritating!) Also, if they must use packaging – I think they should lead the way with biodegradable forms of packaging. It seems to me that Trader Joes uses way more packaging than the other stores I shop at. I have been thinking of starting a petition and would be thrilled if you did. Also, there is a finally… Read more »

Laura Hinton

hi! im so glad i found you…of course i been trying to figure out where and if some of the packages and fruit cribs can be recycled, still looking for the answer, but yes please lets help Trader Joes get green! i live in Los Angeles and it really kills me that most of their packaging is not recyclable to the point of avoiding shopping there!, here the custom is that if its not organic is not packaged so all the organics are in those bags or the stupid nets! HELP!!! all the chips are in this weird bags that… Read more »


1) Yes 2)Tacoma, WA 3)Yes. It’s not just the produce either. Some things are sold in such small quantities and in plastic. Things like rice, beans, sugar, trail mix, mineral water, frozen foods, etc. 4) Yes, apples, melon, squash, citrus, and bananas. 5) Produce, all of it. 6) I’m willing to do most things, but I don’t have a lot of time. I have two small kids.


Thank you for this post. I love Trader Joes, but have just decided to go plastic-free and can no longer shop there. I just sent them an email. I know it would not be enough for a difference, but every voice matters!

Laura Hinton

can you pls share the email address ? i want to email them too…i have spoken to the manager but would like to email them also///


1) Yes, I do 2) at the University of Southern California Village location and the College Ave location in Oakland 3) Yes, it’s worse than Safeway, Berkeley Bowl, and Whole Foods 4) Yes, they offer most of their fruits and some of their vegetables unpackaged, but they also have packaged options 5)Zucchini does not need to be packaged nor does cucumber, none of the produce should come in packaging except maybe greens! 6)I would sign a petition, write a letter, forward the petition, collect packaging, and take photos


1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Yes, occasionally 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. I travel. I have in Northern NJ and Santa Cruz, CA 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? Yes, more packaged produce than loose at Tjs. 4) Does your Trader Joe’s offer any produce that is not wrapped in plastic? If so, what kinds of things? I think so- banana, apple, pear 5) What items are the worst offenders?… Read more »

Susan H

RE: Plastic wrapped organic foods. I saw this ad on Facebook and would think packers of food (stores) could find this product in larger sizes and replace it for the toxic plastic they use now

Lee Ormasa

when I Googled this topic your article popped up. you did an excellent job of laying out the problem at Trader Joe’s. to my knowledge no leafy greens are without plastic packaging at Trader Joe’s these days. Mixed greens are a mainstay of most people’s healthy diets. I will write a letter to my local Trader Joe’s and also send an e-mail to the company headquarters. thanks for taking all the time you did to put together a very fair representation of how Trader Joe’s is handing its produce.


Set the Produce Free!!! My nearest TJs are in Plano, TX and McKinney TX. They have a lot of plastic wrapped produce. The Kroger stores in my area of Allen, TX also have a lot of plastic wrapped and boxed produce. I’m so proud of the Kroger stores for stepping up and supplying a large assortment of organic produce, but why does it have to be wrapped in plastic?


I like the idea of using plastic wrap, I would much rather start a recycle thing than eat food that has pesticides and wax on them. The wax just keeps the pesticides on the food for you. In case you haven’t looked around the store you shop in people handle the food a lot and the plastic not only keeps the food fresher, it helps to keep some of the nasty bacteria and germs off the food. easier to wash food that isn’t coated with wax as well. Just think next time you buy some food that is sitting there… Read more »


Thank you for putting into writing what I had intended to say. I fully agree. I would rather deal with proper disposal of the plastic than to worry about the 300 or so dirty hands that touched my piece of veggie or fruit before I purchased it. Also agree I don’t like wax.


I hope this effort is not dead! I would love for this campaign to get some traction, especially in light of the recent expose in MotherJones magazine about the shocking prevalence of estrogenic chemicals, not just BPA, in so many plastics. 1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Yes 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Culver City, CA 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? Yes. Many of the more mainstream grocery stores, both east and west coast from what I have seen,… Read more »


I don’t think Trader Joe’s is not the only store who use excessive parasitic to package their products. Wallmart, Sam’s club, Ralphs, etc not much difference. I hope people are not studied enough to say “after X amount of parasitic it is considered too much—“. They do take care of employee and the majority of customers use reusable grocery bags too. I’m sure Trader Joe’s is going to make change. But I am so curious — why all of a sudden people start to talk about Trader Joe’s parasitic use????? I want to find out what group started and who… Read more »


pre-packaged produce often costs more too – because they’ve packed it for you. Convenience gone mad.


Trader Joe’s “Organic Baby Spinach” is in a sealed #7 plastic bag!
#7 plastic can contain toxic bisphenol-A (BPA).
This can’t be good. Shame on Trader Joes.

Beth Terry

Hey everyone… right now, the Plastic Pollution Coaligion has a petition going to ask Trader Joe’s to reduce produce packaging. This is a good start. Let’s all sign it and forward it. We need to do more… but let’s see how this goes first.

Without Conclusion

We should tackle Fresh & Easy too. I stopped shopping there because they sell live turtles to customers in China and they refuse to stop this practice. Maybe they will stop wrapping everything in plastic if we add them to the action. I will send you some video and photos of how much plastic they use in the produce section. They are worse than Trader Joe’s

Beth Terry

I live in Oakland and have not seen Fresh and Easy. Sounds awful. My question is whether they are presenting themselves as “green” in the same way Trader Joe’s does? Many eco-minded people shop at TJ’s because of the emphasis on organic foods. So it’s just so ironic that TJ’s has more plastic packaging than many other conventional grocery stores.

Without Conclusion

Beth, visit their website at They have stated several times on their website and throughout their stores about how green they are compared to other grocery stores. I don’t shop over there anymore because they refuse to stop selling live turtles in their stores in China. I will make a special trip to take pictures of all the horrible plastic and email them to you sometime next week.

Beth Terry

Okay, great. Please do send me pics/info. The turtle thing is horrible.


&2) I shop at Trader Joe’s in Winston-Salem, NC. Our TJ’s opened a month ago and we were all pretty thrilled. Then my family read Garbology, watched Bag It, and started learning about the health and environmental dimensions of food packaging. Now we’re afraid we’ll have to swear off our favorite new finds. 3) TJ’s produce packaging is surely worse than any of my other local options (Whole Foods, Fresh Market, farmer’s markets, and the big-box stores). Plus, TJ’s doesn’t offer any bulk bins, so those products that I’d normally scoop into glass or paper are ultra-plasticized. 4) Our TJ’s… Read more »


I’m shocked! Why does it get to this extent? I live in Australia and am getting annoyed at the ever increasing amount of produce that is beginning to be sold packaged. But I have yet to see such an extent as your photos display. While I do not buy fruit n veg in big name supermarkets which cart most of their stuff around the continent even they provide mixed lettuce, loose baby spinach etc that you can collect what you need yourself from big tubs alongside their bags of it. If not loose, I can still get my potatoes in… Read more »


I just want to add that as I’ve recently started shopping at Walmart (albeit reluctantly), they have less plastic wrapped produce. Not a lot less, Walmart’s pretty awful about this, but they do have less.


1) Yes 2)Tempe, Arizona 3) For many fruits and vegetables, yes. They have far more glass bottled sauces, jams, etc, but for vegetables they are filled with plastic 4 & 5) Yes – individual fruits, such as apples, pears, avacados, peaches, and individual vegetables like potatoes, onions, and bell peppers. While I can see the utility of plastic wrapping things like spinach (especially considering TJ’s doesn’t sell by weight), I see no reason to shrink wrap individual heads of brocolli, cucumbers or pairs of squash. 6) If we started a campaign, what which of the following things would you be… Read more »


Hey Beth, I am a designer student in San Francisco State University, and I am currently working on the Trader Joe’s plastic packaging for one of my classes. A part of my project is to research the problem and to create an alternative solution. If it works out, I’ll try to work with Trader Joe’s to substitute the current harmful practices. Here is my project’s blog:
stay tuned :)

Kenji Yamada

Awesome, Julia! I got a reply from Trader Joe’s to the message I mentioned below, and it said basically “We’d like to avoid plastic, but right now that would be too expensive.” Do you have a sense of what cost constraints you’d have to meet in order to make an alternative feasible for TJ’s?

Beth Terry

Hi Kenji. Can you please respond to them and ask why it would be more expensive to sell produce without any packaging than to sell with plastic packaging? We’re not talking about switching to another material but just selling it naked like most other stores do.

Kenji Yamada

Just sent a response to that effect. I’ll pass along their reply when I get it.

Beth Terry

Thank you, thank you! I have not had time to start anything so I’m glad you taken the initiative. Please, please keep us informed. I’ll check out your blog. Let me know if you want to chat.

Kenji Yamada

Hey Beth, I sent a message to TJ’s telling them I’d like to be able to take home less plastic from their stores and asked them to contact you. Here are my answers to your questions: 1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. Yes, in Concord, CA. 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? Not sure in general, but in produce, definitely yes. More plastic packaging of produce… Read more »


TJ’s used to be my favorite place to shop, since I could buy organic produce at lower prices than anywhere else around me. After reading the book and blog however, my eyes are opened in a whole new way and I am re-evaluating my plastic-steeped life (which I used to think was really green!). So I am looking to alternatives to TJ’s. My issue is that my family is also on a budget and organic is a huge priority to me. Our farmers markets don’t have many organic farmers (only one at the market I go to, and she doesn’t… Read more »


While I applaud your concern with reducing plastic use, your statement on GMOs is ignorant. A lot of GMO produce is developed precisely in order to reduce the use of chemicals. Some traits are selected in order to make plants more resilient in poorer soil – thus reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. Other traits make the plants more resistant to pests – thus reducing the need for spraying with insect repellents, fungicides and the like. If you are concerned about chemical use in our food supply (as you should be) then you should be supporting GMO – which is… Read more »

Valerie Teruel

It would be good for TJ’s to see how much business they are losing, because of this one issue. I went from shopping mostly at TJ’s to only buying the foods they offer that are not packaged. I only shop organic so it has become really limited. My local does sell a few unpackaged organic items. On the other hand they have plenty of regular produce that is unpackaged. I guess they don’t trust their customers. This week I went to get grape juice and yes that too is now in plastic, another lost customer!

Michele Siegle Coghill

less plastic packaging! Particularly produce.

Marian Hammett

Yes, I would like MUCH less prepacking of fresh produce.

Danni Hart

Yes yes and yes, but they probably pre-package at their distribution point to save $$$ in the retail locations. Don’t like prepack veggies though so don’t buy them.

Katie Ostrich

I would love to see this happen. 1) No I don’t shop at Trader Joe’s, mainly because I feel that they market to people who think of themselves as environmentalists, while having products that are anything but environmentally friendly. I would love Trader Joe’s to practice what it seems to want to preach, and be able to shop there, so for this I’d be willing to stop in to my local store. 2) Stockton, CA is my nearest store 3) Yes. Safeway and Raley’s both have more produce with less packaging. Safeway and Raleys also sell their own bread at… Read more »


I don’t want to burden you with work but I would absolutely love to see such a campaign take off because Trader Joe’s is one of the few grocery options we have around UCLA besides Ralphs. It’s a stepping stone for many I know between stores like Ralphs and the real healthy and sustainable venues like farmers markets. I’m going to bring this up at my Sustainability Club meeting tonight and am hoping to hear a lot of support! 1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Yes, usually for convenience foods like crackers and tater tots. They’re often more affordable… Read more »

The Left Coast Mama

yes! way too much packaging when these items can easily be sold package free!


Absolutely, it is a huge problem and is why I typically do not buy my produce from TJs. With that said, mine sells organic milk packaged in a 100% paper carton–no TetraPak bullshit.with the plastic screwcap.

My guilty TJ purchases (re: plastic wrapping): cheese, yogurt, maple mini-wheat cereal.
Happy TJ purchases (paper wrapping): milk, cous-cous.


I am very glad this was brought up because every time I walk in Trader Joes I am always sad to see everything wrapped in plastic. Its nice to hear other people feel this way as well. My boyfriend has the theory that it may be to reduce theft but I have no idea if he really believe that or if he was just trying to justify or if it is even true for that matter. (1) I shop occassionally at Trader Joes (mainly for junk food and such similar to Jennifer) but I would shop there more if there… Read more »


Haha that is hilarious. I’ve always thought it’s pretty rediculous how much stuff is packaged in plastic. Have you ever seen those packages of Candy that have like each individual life saver packaged in its own peice of plastic. Its rediculous and frankly its wierd and im ashamed and surprized if the consumer market has actually driven these trends. Zack Terry

Beth Terry

Isn’t it crazy, Zack? Have you seen individually-wrapped jellybeans? Or prunes? Insane.

Lily Rothrock

yes! i never buy their produce. it’s imported mainly too. and it’s not just the plastic itself that’s bad–since stuff is packaged together, if one of, say, three avocados goes bad, they throw them all away! that’s part of the reason why their dumpsters are so plentiful.

Doug DuBois

It wasn’t too long ago I could buy juice in glass bottles there. Now it seems to be all plastic containers.

Margaret E Robinson

you so totally bet i would! all that plastic packaging (ESPECIALLY for the produce) was just too much – we quit shopping there over 12 months ago. organic veggies (ANY veggies) in plastic is so wrong!

Lisa Bark

That’s funny you posted this today because I was just talking to my dad today and he was talking about Trader Joe’s and I told him I don’t shop there because they overpackage.

Caro Price

Most of their stuff seems to be imported from S. America, Europe and Asia…their carbon footprint can’t be small. Sure, I’d be up for reducing their packaging.

Susan Stewart

Trader joes has a funny distribution system of their own, which i’m not certain but i think it reduces overall carbon footprint. but it might be something worth pursuing anyways, to make them re-think how to do both less plastic and less carbon.

Ryan Elizabeth Cope

This is crazy! VT doesn’t have any Trader Joes, but the stores we do have (Hannaford, Price Chopper, Shaws) all use way, WAY less packaging…usually the plastic wraps are used for only organic produce and bags of potatoes/apples, etc. This is an absurd waste of plastic, so yes; I’d totally be down for telling Trader Joe’s to cut the plastic habit. :)

Jenni Webb

Every company same.!!. now the packs are bigger than the bikkies .. Companies wld get it!

Shannon Adolph

Yes, I hate Tj’s. I thought I was the only one. Everyone else seems to worship at the altar of TJ’s. :-

Perfectly Flawed

Yes, yes, yes!

Celine Lovins

That’s why I don’t shop there…so much packaging!

Kathleen Stanton Johnson

Yes! And it drives me crazy! I was so happy when they started offering apples, pears, and a few other products without the plastic clam shell. I wish they would continue that trend with all of their produce!

Nancy Nathan Baldwin

I have been saying this for years! Which is why I don’t buy their produce! Only buy their organic noodles becaues its the best price around me.