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.

82% of discards at the Co-op are recycled and diverted from our landfills

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!

28,000lbs of diverted food donated to those in need

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. 

Plastics recycling

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.

Our commitment

The Co-op's 2030 goal to be a zero waste facility

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

Get to know Ashland Emergency Food Bank

The sixth cooperative principle, "Concern for Community," has become even more important since the pandemic began and economies, locally and globally, started to constrict. To address this, the Board of Directors agreed in April to release 100% of patronage dividends and designate Ashland Emergency Food Bank as a donation option for those dividends - resulting in over $20,000 in donations. And with the early launch of Change for Good register round-up, AEFB was a natural choice to receive round-up donations. 

2020 Co-op Election Results

2020 Co-op Election Results

Ashland Food Co-op owners voted for three open seats on the Board of Directors, and for ten non-profit organizations for the Change for Good register round-up program.

Click a name below to read more about that Co-op Board member.

Co-op Owners Step-Up to Support the Ashland Emergency Food Bank!

AFC and AEFB Press Release - Local Strength!

Release Date: 5-26-2020

In April, the Ashland Food Co-op Board of Directors announced to the community that the Co-op would be returning 100% of the 2019 Patronage Dividend to its owners. The 100% Patronage Dividend return to Co-op owners converted to over $628,000.

The Co-op Board felt in this time of great need it was not the right time for the Co-op to put away funds for the future, but rather to support owners fully so they may have more strength to weather these stormy times.

Free Monday Night Lectures - virtual and recorded

Thanks to the many agile and adaptable experts in the Rogue Valley, the much-loved Free Monday Night Lectures live on - even if everything is moving online.

While we miss seeing community members with a joy of learning showing up at the Co-op Classroom, we hope these recordings teach and inspire you. 


Open letter from AFC Board on Coronavirus Policies

The Ashland Food Co-op has played a critical role supporting our community for nearly 50 years by providing healthy food and a safe place to shop. With the recent COVID-19 shutdown, this support has been even more important and has stretched our organization in ways that we could not have anticipated. We have endeavored to address the needs of both our staff and our customers, hopefully in the most cooperative manner.

Coronavirus Preparedness at the Co-op

The Ashland Food Co-op acknowledges and shares our community’s concerns about protecting against the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). The safety and health of staff and customers is a top priority for the Co-op. We are taking proactive steps throughout our store to maintain a clean atmosphere to work and shop.

We have consolidated store changes below.

Owner Voting on 2020 Co-op Board & more

As an owner of the Ashland Food Co-op, you are an important decision-maker in the leadership of the Co-op! A vital part of your ownership is voting for the Board of Directors.

On the ballot: Vote for Board Candidates and Change for Good Organizations

Vote for Board Candidates
This year, four candidates are nominated for three Board positions: each elected Board director will serve a three-year term. The candidates are Ed Claassen, Mark Gibbs, Carolina Livi and Julie O'Dywer.

A dozen local favorites to explore this summer

The Co-op has always had a focus on supporting the strong local scene of growers and producers - and in these times, it's even more important. Here is just a small selection of some of our favorites from the area.  Help support local businesses next time you stop by the Co-op by picking one of these products.

Unwavering Spirit in a Time of Change

By Emile Amarotico, General Manager

It’s been two months since my last update on our Co-op community, but it could just as well have been two years ago, or from an alternate reality! Needless to say, life at the Co-op has changed, and it hasn’t been easy for employees or shoppers. But despite the challenges, it has been an inspiring and reaffirming time that reminds us why we love the cooperative enterprise.

Staying Sustainable in A Changing World

By Rianna Koppel, Sustainability Coordinator

In the midst of a health crisis, how can we focus on sustainability? Let’s be real - these are tough times!

What does sustainability look like now? I like to refer to the definition of sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. How can we meet the needs of the present, while keeping the future in mind?