Hey Trader Joe’s: Less plas­tic with my food, please

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY MARIEL GARZA Mariel Garza writes for The Los An­ge­les Times.

For many years, Trader Joe’s was my main stop for gro­ceries, booze and dog food. But as I wrote more about the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost of sin­gleuse plas­tic I started notic­ing my how much plas­tic I was bring­ing home as part the weekly Trader Joe’s haul — and was ap­palled.

Amer­i­can grocery stores in gen­eral sell a tremen­dous amount of prod­ucts en­cased in some sort of plas­tic pack­ag­ing. But Trader Joe’s, it seemed, had taken it to a whole new, hor­ri­fy­ing level: Per­sian cu­cum­bers en­tombed in hard plas­tic shells. Toma­toes en­sconced in crinkly plas­tic bags. In­di­vid­u­ally wrapped tea bags. Greet­ing cards en­cased in pro­tec­tive plas­tic film. For cry­ing out loud, that’s not even food!

So my Trader Joe’s runs ta­pered off to oc­ca­sional jaunts for wine and the few things I couldn’t find else­where (hello, blue cheese mus­tard). Now I rely on farm­ers markets for the bulk of my gro­ceries, which still push way too much plas­tic on cus­tomers, in my opin­ion, and grocery stores with bulk grains and seed bins that don’t mind if you fill up with re­us­able bags from home.

I’m not the only cus­tomer who has been turned off by the chain’s vol­ume of plas­tic pack­ag­ing. In the Feb. 4 edi­tion of the “In­side Trader Joe’s” pod­cast, a crew mem­ber at the Sil­ver Lake store said that when peo­ple find out where she works, “their first thing is al­ways, ‘Oh my God, I love Trader Joe’s.’ And the se­cond thing is, ‘Why do you use so much plas­tic?’”

Green­peace, which last year in­cluded sin­gle-use plas­tic as one of its top en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, no­ticed as well, and started a pres­sure cam­paign tar­get­ing Trader Joe’s, gath­er­ing more than 100,000 sig­na­tures. The push­back seems to have worked. On New Year’s Eve, the South­ern California-based (but Ger­man-owned) grocery em­pire an­nounced a plan to cut its plas­tic foot­print by a mil­lion pounds this year. Also, it would con­tinue to look for ways to de­ploy less sin­gle-use plas­tic pack­ag­ing.

Whoa, big vic­tory, right? That’s 1 mil­lion pounds of plas­tic that won’t have a chance to end up in the ocean to kill whales or in our food chain to do who knows what to our bod­ies. Hooray for Trader Joe’s for lis­ten­ing to pub­lic con­cerns and re­spond­ing. But….

I just can’t help be­ing a bit un­der­whelmed by the pro­posal. It’s like the grocery equiv­a­lent of the state ban­ning straws. For ex­am­ple, here’s what the com­pany is work­ing on this year:

Dump­ing plas­tic and foil pack­ages from boxes of tea and find­ing a non­plas­tic bag for flow­ers.

Re­plac­ing poly­styrene foam meat trays with a PET trays, which is a plas­tic that is eas­ier to re­cy­cle — though we know that doesn’t guar­an­tee it will be re­cy­cled, what with the global re­cy­cling mar­ket break­ing down.

Re­plac­ing the plas­tic sleeve on greet­ing cards with some­thing made from re­new­able, com­postable ma­te­rial. (Bet­ter, but do greet­ing cards need re­ally sleeves? Other stores don’t seem to think so.)

Eval­u­at­ing plas­tic pack­ag­ing for pro­duce. Here’s a bet­ter idea: get rid of pack­ag­ing for any pro­duce larger than a straw­berry. Most pro­duce comes wrapped in its own nat­u­ral pack­ag­ing.

See what I mean? Small pota­toes — don’t need to be in a bag ei­ther. Who eats a raw, un­washed potato?

A spokes­woman for Trader Joe’s told me re­cently there may be an­other an­nounce­ment this month about other sus­tain­abil­ity steps. I hope so, and also that it will be more im­pres­sive than this first set of ac­tions.Trader Joe’s, which has styled it­self as a more so­cially con­scious choice for young, hip­per ur­ban­ites, ought to be a leader in sus­tain­abil­ity, not a re­luc­tant fol­lower. This is an op­por­tu­nity to do so.

I’m not in any way sug­gest­ing that peo­ple stop shop­ping at Trader Joe’s be­cause of its plas­tic habit. In fact, I’m more in­clined to re­turn to my lo­cal store, now that I know Trader Joe’s is lis­ten­ing to cus­tomers’ con­cerns. It will also give me an op­por­tu­nity to see if the com­pany back­slides on its com­mit­ment to con­tinue cut­ting down in its sin­gle-use plas­tic.

What I am sug­gest­ing, though, is that ev­ery­one pay more at­ten­tion to the plas­tic that’s be­ing pushed upon them at every point of pur­chase – at the grocery store, the phar­macy, the de­part­ment store and on­line re­tail­ers – and push back a lit­tle them­selves.

Fill out cus­tomer sug­ges­tion forms and call cus­tomer ser­vice num­bers and tell them about whales dy­ing be­cause they’ve in­gested so much plas­tic there is no room for food in their stom­achs. Maybe take it a step fur­ther and tweet pic­tures of the piles of plas­tic pack­ag­ing ac­crued from just one shop­ping trip.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world in re­tail­ing these days as on­line com­pa­nies chip away at the cus­tomer base of lo­cal out­lets, and it’s just pos­si­ble that lo­cal stores have never been as des­per­ate to please their cus­tomers and en­sure their loy­alty as they are now.

That makes this a per­fect time for this sim­ple re­quest: Less plas­tic with my food, please.

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