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?

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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…

 

Apples…

Lemons and limes…

Avocados…

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 Change.org 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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133 Comments on "What Do You Think of the Plastic Produce Packaging at Trader Joe’s Nowadays?"

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YES.

1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Hardly, due to the packaging of most of their materials. I occasionally buy pasta sauce, and bananas. 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. I live in San Francisco, CA. There are 3 locations in the city, and I “shop” at the one near SFSU. 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? Short answer, yes, it is. Other grocers carry a variety of produce available without packaging, including… Read more »
[BLOCKED BY STBV] 100 ways to live (and die) green «

[…] Skip the produce in additional plastic wrap. […]

Thank you for talking about this. I always feel so guilty when I shop at T.J.’s, because almost everything is in plastic, and a lot of items are going from glass to plastic. I primarily shop at our local health food store, Jimbo’s, which is far better than T.J.’s for both quality, local,organic, less packaging, and having a bulk department, but they are also more expensive than T.J.’s. They do not have home and beauty items in bulk and they need to enlarge their bulk department. I have requested, but said they don’t have the space. They also started putting… Read more »

Sam-
You said in your post you can’t find ricotta cheese without plastic. I just wanted to share with you a blog with recipes of foods without plastic, and there is one for homemade ricotta cheese. The blog is plasticfreechef.com, and the link is http://theplasticfreechef.com/2012/03/14/homemade-ricotta-cheese/
Definitely recommend the site!
Nancy

I was shocked at the photos that so many things were duplicated, but plastic wrapped. I live in Western Australia, and although our stores also over-use plastic packaging, not to this extent. I guess they would not sell the volume of produce that allows a store to have the same item two-ways?

I’m in the “avoid TJ like the plague” camp. And it is because of their packaging primarily. In fact I began avoiding them way before I even got clued into the whole plastic issue because I just dislike waste in general and their packaging contains so much waste! On a rare day that I do frequent the place (like today) it is to get an item that is packaged similarly in other stores. So today I got ricotta cheese and I don’t know how to get ricotta cheese without plastic. But I do reuse the container to store dry goods… Read more »
1) Yes, I shop there to get things that aren’t in the CSA basket, or when I can’t make it out to the Coop on the other side of town. But I don’t like buying the overpackaged produce at all, and if I can avoid it, I do. 2) I shop at TJs in West Los Angeles. 3) I think their produce packaging is worse that whole foods and the Coop in Santa Monica for sure. Even worse than regular supermarkets like Ralphs… 4) They do offer things like bell peppers and apples and lemons unpackaged- which I am SO… Read more »

Just letting you know that I followed through with my earlier comment and wrote today’s blog post about plastic in food buying and food storage with a link to this post of yours. I hope people will comment and offer their own plastic-free solutions.

1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? I used to, but the over-packaging drove me nuts enough times that I don’t go there anymore. 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. I live in Palo Alto, CA near the Trader Joes at Town and Country Village. I work in San Jose, CA so I also used to visit the Trader Joes at the Coleman center. 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? YES. I think… Read more »

I commented yesterday but just stopped by TJs again today and noticed that there are a few more types of produce than there used to be that are not packaged in plastic. There is a definite improvement (some apples, watermelon, pineapple, avocados, one type of tomato, peppers, potatoes, onions, and some citrus). I thanked them via email for the improvement, and asked for continued improvement. Still too few options for me to regularly shop there for produce.

Just a quick note before I answer the questions. One of my close friends works for GreenPeace. A few years ago, they attempted to get TJs to stop selling some species of threatened fish (yes they were doing this, CRAZY). When they contacted the corporate headquarters, they were told that each TJs was individually owned and operated and that each store manager did the ordering for that particular branch. So, GP did successfully get these fish off the shelf at TJs but they did so by, literally, getting GP activists to go to every single TJs in the country. I’m… Read more »
Thanks for much for this. I, too, have complained to friends but have not taken any action. I did contact them about BPA and I know they are moving in the right direction on that (before other stores). 1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? I used to shop a lot there and was super excited when they arrived in Minnesota, but I by only a few things there now due to the packaging. 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Minnesota 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your… Read more »

I haven’t shopped much at Trader Joe’s because they’re way over on the other side of St. Louis, but I would be willing to sign a petition and/or write a letter. I don’t use Facebook very much but I would also be willing to post a link there.

I shop at TJs a lot but I refuse to buy produce there b/c of the packaging. The store I shop at is in Reston, Virginia. They don’t package bananas nor some citrus (like grapefruit) but only sometimes are these things unwrapped. I would write letters, make phone calls, sign petitions, speak to the store manager, and basically support anything else. Let us know!

1) Every now and then

2) The closest TJ’s to me is in Bend, Oregon.

3) This is a hard one for me, since I don’t buy produce at TJ’s, and therefore, don’t really notice it. But I think it’s a little more plastic-dominated than my local grocery store.

4) On occasion, I have seen apples, peaces and other such things sans plastic.

5) Cucumbers, salad items, etc.

6) I would be willing to write a letter, start a petition and write about it on my blog.

I have been to Trader Joe’s twice. Each time left I without purcahsing anything because I couldn’t buy fresh food items in the quantities that I wanted as the items were packaged in quantities greater than I wanted.
I don’t like the packaging waste and I don’t like that most often one can’t buy just one or two peices of produce.
I honestly don’t see why people are so enamored of Trader Joe’s and I have chosen to”vote” with my money… I just don’t shop at Trader Joe’s.

I live in Canada, so there is no Trader Joe’s around me, but my local grocery stores do the exact same thing and it drives me bonkers. I’ll continue to do what I can north of the border. I also just read this article (http://www.good.is/post/the-plastic-bag-war-is-moving-toward-the-produce-aisle/?) and am glad to see that the plastic packaging debate is getting more recognition.

I don’t shop at TJs as they are not nearby. If i do its just for a few boxes of organic M&C premix for the kiddos, while in their area. with that said, I don’t buy produce there either, but not bc they may wrap it up, which I dont notice much of…bc I get it at my local farmers market cheaper. I do notice another store (several nearby) Fresh N Easy who wrap EACH and EVERY piece of produce in cellophane. I have taken photographs and posted them on FB. I have asked many managers WHY. I have stopped… Read more »

You know, I do a tremendous amount of my shopping at TJ’s- and I hate the packaging. Lately I, like you find more and more produce there that is not packaged. But far from perfection. And I would probably do a lot better if not for my addiction to Broccoli Slaw!

Beth,

I think of you every time I am in a Trader Joes. I find it such a paradox that their clientele (at least where I live in MD) are those same people that really have a connection to their environment, shop organic, and would like to see the plastic gone. At the same time, the store is all about convenience. I would be a part of any campaign to challenge Trader Joes to find a more responsible way to meet the needs of their customers. All that extra plastic packaging does make me just CRAZY!

Jennifer @noteasy2begreen
1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Occasionally (once every two or three months, mostly for junk food rather than regular groceries). 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. Silicon Valley / South Bay area. 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? It’s comparable to Fresh and Easy but more excessive than most other local supermarkets, including Whole Foods. 4) Does your Trader Joe’s offer any produce that is not wrapped in plastic? If so,… Read more »

I’d sign a petition, write a letter & talk to my local manager.
I’d post a petition on FB.
Collect packaging from TJ’s purchases for a month.
and take pictures.

I love Trader Joes yet feel so guilty about all the plastic. I would be willing to support this campaign. They have so many organic, natural, and vegan product yet they are sold in disposable plastic. What annoys me the most is that they sell their soap in plastic. Who needs that? they should as least use cardboard jeez.

There is a Trader Joes about 30 mins from my house; I go a couple of times a year. Mostly I choose to shop closer to home for the convenience & to save gas (petroleum). I was there about a year ago -this TJ store is 25 mins north of boston. Much more packaging than any other store I go to so I think the packagers/manufacturers are responding to Trader Joe specifications. I think a campaign is a good idea. honestly, I go for their convenience foods so I’d still only go a few times a year. However, when I… Read more »
In May of 2010, I wrote to Trader Joes about their excessive use of plastic. This was there response: Vanessa, We appreciate all the feedback we receive from our customers. We are always evaluating the information that is available concerning our packaging. We evaluate every product for packaging requirements and we continue to explore economical Earth friendly alternatives that can deliver freshness and shelf life without preservatives. We are also using compostible packaging for much of our packaged produce. We are always working to balance our desire to use as little packaging as possible with our efforts to keep our… Read more »
I shop at that same Tjoes on College Ave! a) buy the unpackaged produce at Tjoes, or buy unpackaged produce at a different store. Easy as that b) Ask to talk to the manager and express your desire to see less packaging. Always mention it to the checkout person. And, do it nicely. After the 5th person makes such a comment, someone is likely to pass it up the chain of command c) While you’re having a nice chat with the staff there, ask them why a Northern California supermarket, less than 100 miles away from the Central Valley, only… Read more »

A friend took me to Trader Joe’s for the first time a couple years ago. He went on and on about how great their stuff is. Maybe, but all I could see was plastic everywhere and they were so proud of selling reusable cloth bags to carry home the groceries. I won’t ever seek one out again.

Yes, to just about all the questions. I go to the Trader Joe’s in Tempe, AZ but I don’t buy the packaged veggies. I can usually get loose apples, bell peppers, avocadoes, and sometimes potatoes there. Count me in on a campaign!

1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? I used to, in Boston. 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. A TJ’s is coming to Boulder, CO next year so I will definitely go check it out! 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? I can’t remember, but those pictures are awful! Even the King Soopers here in Boulder, which is not health-minded at all, has hardly any plasticated fruits and veggies. 4) Does your Trader… Read more »
1) I do occasionally, but prefer Whole Foods and Earthfare because their produce sections are better and aren’t wrapped in plastic. 2) Mount Pleasent, SC. 3) Compared to the other two big health stores, yes. My local TJ’s has options on some of it produce, but often times the ones in plastic look better than the ones outside of the plastic. Compared to the conventional store that I shop at occasionally it’s about par. 4) It does offer things not wrapped in plastic and the items offered are about the same as your pictures. I haven’t been in my local… Read more »
I just heard recently and it was confirmed in the pictures above that often grocers are forced to package organic produce because people switch the stickers to pay the conventional price. It seemed as though most of it was the same in the pictures – the conventional limes were loose, the organic limes were packaged – and so on. I mostly only shop at TJ’s for paper products (TP, tissues, etc) because they have the most affordable, highest postconsumer recycled content. This is produce packaging issue is important, but potentially TJ’s is doing better. Costco (only been in there a… Read more »
I would definitely support less plastic packaging at Trader Joe’s and all stores, but here’s an interesting fact that hasn’t been brought up yet: TJs are well known in the dumpster diving community as being a fabulous place to get “gently used” produce. Why? Because with the packaging on several produce items at once (avocados for example), if one of them gets bruised, TJs throws out the whole package. Often the other ones are in fine shape, and a dumpsterer can take the three of the four avocados and feed his or her cooperative household, a food pantry he or… Read more »

I live in Canada so don’t go the Trader Joe’s but I just want to chime in to agree with eco cat lady comments about food being handled.
I think we’re a wee bit too paranoid about cleanliness and germs.Fruit and veg can be washed and the general public’s view that “touched” produce is contaminated is one of the reasons that the world finds itself knee deep on plastic.
Yea, you can pick up bugs and germs when you’re out shopping for apples, the only solution for that would be to live in a bubble.

I would shop at TJ’s more often if it was near me. However when I visit family in the Chicagoland area I almost always stop in and spend a pretty penny! This means I don’t always purchase produce, but have definitely noticed the plastic! I don’t think their packaging is worse – the ‘problem’ is that organic more often than not seems to be in plastic as compared to conventional. Like how even if bananas aren’t bagged in plastic, they still have a plastic sticker around them. While I do think they are a company that would listen, it kind… Read more »
1) I rarely shop at Trader Joe’s anymore due to this very problem. 2) Mountain View and Palo Alto, California 3) Yes, the produce packaging is obscene. Even when I did shop regularly at Trader Joe’s, I avoided the produce. I live near an small open air market–almost all of the produce has zero packaging there. Even the Safeway near me doesn’t package the produce like TJ’s does. 4) Yes–apples, bananas. I’m not sure what else. 5) I’m not sure if they still package peppers on plastic trays, and then wrap the whole thing in plastic. I know basil is… Read more »

1. Yes, for certain items
2. Orange, Connecticut
3. Yes, Trader Joe’s produce packaging is definitely worse than other stores in the area
4. I think potatoes, onions, lemons, limes, avocadoes, and apples I can buy without plastic packaging
5. Pretty much all the green vegetables are encased in plastic – bell peppers, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, zucchini, etc
6. I would write letters, sign a petition, forward to others in my network

Beth, I wrote this post objecting to the plastic packaging at Trader Joe’s: http://blog.biggreenpurse.com/biggreenpurse/2009/01/when-it-comes-to-packaging-trader-joes-can-do-better.html

I have to say, TJ’s footprint is small compared to Safeway, Giant, and the big grocery chains. I can’t help but wonder how to leverage a success at TJs into impact at the big grocery chains. Thanks. Diane

1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Occassionally. Would probably shop there more if less stuff were overpackaged! 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. I was there more when I lived in Las Vegas, but I currently shop at Paramus, NJ and Pikesville, MD (near my parents’ home) 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? Yes because many of the produce items aren’t available loose. There is a small produce dept. in all the… Read more »
1) Do you shop at Trader Joe’s? Yes, but less frequently now that I’m eco conscious 2) If so, where? What area of the country? Please be as specific as you feel comfortable being. -NYC 3) Do you think Trader Joe’s produce packaging is actually worse than other stores in your area? Why or why not? Yes,Most supermarkets have many more unpackaged options 4) Does your Trader Joe’s offer any produce that is not wrapped in plastic? If so, what kinds of things? Yes, like: apples, oranges, melons, tomatoes etc 5) What items are the worst offenders? What items would… Read more »
1) Rarely, specifically because of the over-packaging. I would start going there again if they stopped wrapping everything. 2) Beaverton/Portland OR 3) I run into it at New Seasons too, where organic apples in a plastic bag are half the price of the cheapest loose ones. And organic products in general seem to have an over-packaging problem. But I’m able to avoid wrapped things for the most part everywhere but TJ’s. 5) Produce should be unwrapped. And they should have a bulk section…everyone should have a bulk section! 6) I would Sign a petition Write a letter Speak to a… Read more »

Beth, this posting really struck a chord with me. There’s a Trader Joe’s close to me and there are things I regularly buy there (mostly in glass) but I never buy their produce for just this reason. I think a campaign is sorely needed. I’d be willing to:
• 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

PS LOVED the Rhod Gilbert piece. Absolutely top notch satire!

Brenna @ Almost All The Truth

What a thoughtful way you are considering this campaign! I don’t shop at TJs for anything, except very occasionally when I need cheap wine or something and happen to be near one. I am also still bitter about their original stance on GMOs back on the late 90s, their continued use of GMOs, and non-existent transparency on just about anything.

But, I would help the campaign out in any way I could! I could do just about anything that doesn’t require much mobility. :)

P.S. I live in San Jose, CA. On my post and in real life friends have commented about the excessive produce packaging at TJs.

I would also be willing to take notes on what is/ is not packaged in plastic next time I shop there. Or try to, as much as possible, with young crazies with me. I usually shop at the TJ on Coleman by SJ airport or at the Blossom Hill one across the street from WF.

The comedic clip at the end is simply brilliant, as are you Beth – thoughtful and thorough post – inquisitive as always and ever so inclusive. I will gladly help, i see this example not only for trader joe’s but other shopping environments also. I don’t shop currently at a TJ’s. Our community does not have one. I resisted them in my former for some time because I felt they were very bait and switch – cheap wine, high priced eggs, unusual items, but sometimes you could not find peanut butter there. This drove me nuts. I found after getting… Read more »
I am a big TJ fan. Yes, the produce packaging is annoying (it’s b/c they don’t weigh anything), but I don’t think the other packaging is any different than any other store. In part b/c of the excessive packaging (but more b/c I want to support organic, local farmers), I shop almost entirely for product at the farmer’s market and through my CSA. I still shop at TJs about once every 2 months for packaged and deli foods I cannot find elsewhere (or which are much more affordable here than at Whole Foods). I won’t shop there more often if… Read more »

I heard goof things about Trader Joe’s, so I walked through one in the Richmond, VA area once. As far as I could tell, the bananas were the only thing in the entire store that wasn’t packaged in plastic. So I never went back.

I’d sign a petition.

1) Only for a few items that I want (I don’t buy produce there because of all the plastic & because when possible I shop farmer’s markets for locally grown produce). 2) St. Louis (mostly Brentwood, or Des Peres stores) 3) Yes! It’s difficult to buy just one of anything. I think they are going for bulk to offset their lower prices. 4) I imagine they do, but I don’t look any more. 5) Most of the vegetables are in plastic. I don’t want any of it packaged. 6) I would: Sign a petition Write a letter Forward the petition… Read more »
1) I used to shop there most of the time, but had to stop due to the plastic and lack of organics. 2) Oakland, CA 3) Yes. Nearly all the produce is loose at other stores. Lots of bulk bins at other stores too. 4) When I stopped shopping there it seemed the movement was towards more plastic instead of less. 5) I would love to see all produce unpackaged, and bulk bins for dry goods. 6) If we started a campaign, what which of the following things would you be willing to do? Everything on the list. One thing… Read more »
Hmmm… well, aside from the occasional comment or post on the web, I have never heard of Trader Joe’s. I assume it’s some sort of natural grocery chain? Needless to say, we don’t have them here in Denver. But, I’m mostly writing to respond to sari’s comment. I really, REALLY don’t understand the paranoia about food being “handled” by other people. I mean really folks, just about everything we come in contact with has been touched by many, many people before us. And why is this such a big deal? Isn’t that why we wash our produce? I mean for… Read more »
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