The state of plastics
Many Co-op owners and shoppers have shared their interest in reducing plastic usage in the store. From bioplastics, to compostable plastics to recycling options, the Ashland Food Co-op continues to research what works best as we move towards our goal of being a zero waste store. Here is where we stand.
Right now, there is a trade-off in terms of food and plastic waste. Plastic is extraordinarily unique in its ability to preserve food and prevent spoilage and waste. But the trade-off is its very long lifespan.
Reducing plastic waste - by using alternative storage materials, or going package-free when possible - results in more food spoilage and waste, which can sometimes have a bigger ‘carbon footprint’ than plastic use alone.
The best way to summarize: as of March 2019, no perfect solution for plastic alternatives exist.
This isn't meant to make excuses for waste - as you may know, we already divert over 80% of our waste from the landfill. But it is important to know where things stand, and what some of the many decision-making factors are, that go into this debate about containers and plastic. Let’s break it down:
Bioplastics often come from unsustainable sources - for example, monocropped GMO corn that could be used to feed people, or is grown on the other side of the country and requires a large carbon input to deliver.
As the name implies, bioplastics often have lifespans as long as petroleum plastics - they’re still plastic! The “end of life” assessment for bioplastics is not much better than petroleum plastics. For example, a single-use plastic fork made from GMO corn will still end up in the landfill.
Though there are recyclable and compostable bioplastics, they often require specialized machinery at waste disposal sites to be broken down. Our region does not currently have that infrastructure, and the additional carbon footprint to ship these materials elsewhere can quickly outweigh the ‘bio’ benefits.
The Co-op continues to explore options in this area: more readily compostable bioplastic bags are hitting the market which we will continue to test.
Alternatives to plastic
AFC has brought in cardboard packaging for some produce, like cherry tomatoes and strawberries. And yes, they are completely recyclable!
However, it can be difficult for customers to visually connect with the product - can you tell how juicy and ripe those strawberries are through the cardboard? Without that visual connection, a shopper may be hesitant to buy the product, inadvertently leading to more food waste (because the product stays on the shelf longer).
Cardboard also leads to more spoilage because of the lack of light and its ability to carry moisture (leading to molding).
Is generating more food waste an acceptable trade-off to having recyclable and compostable packaging? This is another instance where analyzing production inputs and requirements, instead of just ‘end-of-life’ issues for packaging, gives a better idea of the sustainability of a packaging type.
Many plastics are no longer being accepted by local waste management services. Generally, white, rigid plastics (example: yogurt containers) are still being recycled; clear, non-rigid plastics (soda bottles, salsa containers) are not. So buy smart!
Clamshells are a common area of concern. The Co-op is very lucky to be able to recycle plastic clamshells from products that were purchased at AFC. You can bring those clamshells back into the store for recycling. Even better, this recycling is more carbon neutral because the clamshells hitch a ride back to Eugene on existing truck routes (rather than a one-off transit run).
If you're purchasing greens, you can also bring your own container to fill from the bulk spinach and baby greens bins. Alternatively, OrganicGirl salad clamshells are made of 100% recycled plastic.
It’s easy to see that with the options available right now, there’s always a trade-off. In our own store and through the National Co-op Grocers network, we continue to look for a solution that is not petroleum-based, non-GMO, and that can be recycled or composted fully. When that solution arrives, we will be ready!
Right now, you should aim to reduce your overall plastic consumption when making purchasing decisions; choose reusable packaging when you do have to purchase plastic (clear salsa packages make great storage for leftovers); and choose recyclable plastic (white plastic and clamshells) if you think you’ll only get one use out of the packaging.
For some additional reading on the topic of plastics and packaging, check out this report put together by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
More Co-op News
Part of what makes co-ops unique are the guiding 7 Principles of Cooperation. One of the seven that is felt strongly in Ashland is "Concern for the community" - and that's why the Co-op is offering a new way to give back to our community for the month of October. When you pay at the register, you can round up your total to the nearest dollar. For example, $11.68 becomes $12, and $0.32 is donated.
Donations in October will go to the Ashland Food Co-op Community Fund, which funds the Community Grant program (over $29,000 was provided last year to local non-profits).
We're celebrating Co-op Month in October by highlighting products at the Ashland Food Co-op that are made by other co-ops.
That's one of the seven cooperative principles - Cooperation among Cooperatives - that you'll find being practiced at the Co-op everyday.
You can win a selection of those co-op products by entering your name and email below.
Entries will close on October 24, and a winner will be contacted on October 25 via the email address provided.
Thanks to alpine trails and shaded valley creeks, outdoor recreation is year-round in the Rogue Valley. But fall usually makes for more frisky feet, so we asked Co-op employees for their favorite fall activities and recommendations for what they grab before they head out.
Just in time for the school year, Applegate products are being added to the Co-op Basics program! The Co-op carries a variety of Applegate products, like sliced deli meat, cheeses, bacon, and sausages. Now as part of the Co-op Basics program, you’ll be saving up to $2 on Applegate products across the store, every day.
Another successful farm tour is in the books! With 30 farms this year, visitors could see how bigger farms work, like Herb Pharm, Fry Family Farm, and Rogue Creamery, while also experiencing the joys of smaller farms, such as Turning Point Farm, Fox Run Farm, and Daily Blessing Farm.
Visitors of all ages enjoying Goodwin Creek Gardens
Ashland is a paradise for the outdoors - but sometimes Mother Nature has different plans for us.
When smoke from wildfires becomes an issue, there are still plenty of great activities to enjoy around our wonderful town. Check out this list for some inspiration!
The AFC juice bar has several fresh, organic juices that help with lung support. Here are a few suggestions:
This year, the Ashland Food Co-op proudly celebrates their 20 year partnership with Magnolia Farms. Their pasture raised, no antibiotics, no hormones lamb is a staple in the Co-op Meat Department. Magnolia Farms is graciously donating the lamb for our August First Friday in celebration of our long standing partnership.
The Co-op has been asked if compostable plastic bags are a viable alternative to the standard plastic bags offered in the produce and meat departments.
For several reasons, compostable bags are not in line with the Co-op’s goals and standards.
Not compostable at home
We are happy to announce that we are a member of the Energy Trust of Oregon’s Strategic Energy Management program. This is a free program available to customers of Avista and Pacific Power, which offers awesome incentives including a paid internship!
The Ashland Food Co-op donated over $29,000 to 28 local nonprofit organizations through their Community Grant Program.
The Community Grant program is the focus of one of the fundamental Cooperative Principles, which all cooperative enterprises follow. Our Community Grant Program supports Principle 7, Concern for Community.
Congratulations to Annie Hoy, Melina Barker, Lisa Beam, and Steve Bowman for their election to the Board of Directors! We were delighted to have such a strong slate of candidates to fill our four vacancies. You can read more about each new director here.
Have you thought about how sustainable your paper home products are? While the use of single-use plastics has (rightfully) been criticized, some products are made to be single-use - like toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins. With these products, it’s best to examine sustainability by looking at what goes into their production.
We are grateful for the engaged community that supports the Ashland Food Co-op. We're a grocery store owned by you (with a few thousand of your friends). But your ownership isn't just coupons and discount; you help shape the future of the Co-op through the election of the Board of Directors.
This year, seven candidates are nominated for four board positions: two will serve a three-year term; one will serve a two-year term; and one will serve a one-year term. Additionally, the current board has proposed three by-law changes for approval.