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

Top 15 Things to Do in Ashland (When It's Smoky)

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!

AFC Celebrates 20 Years with Magnolia Farms

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.

Compostable Bags

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

Sustainability Update: Energy efficiency and zero waste

Energy Efficiency
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!

Meet the 2019 Board of Directors

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.

How to stay sustainable with paper products

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.

Board elections are open!

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.

Farm Tour on the Shelves

The Farm Tour shines a spotlight on Southern Oregon - it represents the full range of products grown in the Rogue Valley. The Farm Tour isn't until July 14, but here's a list of tour activities for participating farms that are also on the shelves at the Ashland Food Co-op. Get an early taste of quality local goods!

Planning for Summer... and Smoke

By Emile Amarotico, General Manager

If we are lucky, we’ll only have another seven week smoke intrusion this summer. If we are not, we could be the next Paradise. In less than 13 hours, last November’s Camp Fire wiped out nearly 19,000 structures and more than 80 lives. With community help, we were able to raise over $14,000 to support Chico Natural Foods Co-op’s efforts to feed some of the nearly 20,000 displaced Paradise residents.

The Co-op's "Secret Garden"

Did you know the Co-op employees have a small garden on our campus? Planning and management falls on our fantastic Co-op volunteer: Henry Herting.

Below, Henry shares some background on the garden, what it’s used for, and some additional tales from over the years.

Originally, the need for a kitchen garden arose from having a kitchen classroom in which culinary classes were being held. Visiting chefs have always been invited to use the garden for any ingredients they may have forgotten or items they could use as garnish for their dishes.


Tips for a Sustainable Kitchen

By Mahlea Rasmussen, Education Coordinator

Outside of work I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I find it a soothing space to create nourishing meals and lasting memories. I find it essential to be as eco-friendly as possible and a few changes can transform your kitchen into a sustainable center of your home.

Earth Day Bulk Sale! April 17-21

Save money while working towards a more sustainable shopping experience! The Co-op bulk department is a great "first stop" for your grocery lists - everything from hummus mix to local honey to pet food is available. Plus there's less waste, all the way from shipping to ended up in your shopping cart. 

Check out a quick tour below:

Film festival giveaway

Enter your name and email below to be entered to win two film vouchers for the 2019 Ashland Independent Film Festival.

No purchase necessary. Giveaway is not endorsed or sponsored by AIFF. US residents only. Entry will be closed at 5pm PT on Monday, April 15.