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Ethical business   |   Plastic   |   News from the farm

A little plastic packaging update

At Riverford, cucumbers, cauliflowers and romanescos bought separately (not as part of a veg box) are all now free from their plastic bags. We did some tests and found that, by and large, these items are well-enough protected by the cardboard veg boxes. They might be more at risk of the odd bump and bruise during handling, so we’ve put measures in place to make sure they are handled extra carefully.

We’re glad to have identified some unnecessary plastic – it’s another step on our journey towards reducing all our packaging. Over the course of the year, we expect to save a significant amount of plastic by not putting it on these popular veg. However, please be aware that at certain times of year cucumbers can be more prone to dehydration; in those cases, you may see the plastic bags return for a short time, to prevent spoilage and food waste.

Lettuce

No one likes a limp lettuce
I often get asked about salad and leafy greens – why are they packed in plastic rather than paper bags? Salad and leafy greens are examples of vegetables that dehydrate. If we were to use paper bags, the paper would very quickly draw moisture from the leaves, reducing its shelf life and quality, and ultimately leaving it inedible! By packing in plastic, we can prevent water loss – and thereby food waste.

Pak Choi
Pak Choi

Swiss chard bag test. These gorgeous greens will remain in bags due to the severe dehydration when tested without.

Why don’t we use biodegradable plastic?
We are currently looking at moving to biodegradable plastic bags – but with caution. There are some downsides to biodegradable plastics; before we use them, we need to make sure they are the right solution.

Here are the current main issues with biodegradable plastics:

1) Some don’t break down in home composting.
2) If land is being used to grow the crops used to make plastic (e.g. corn, often GM), then it isn’t being used to grow food.
3) Most biodegradable plastics don’t break down if they end up in the ocean. This creates the same problems as traditional plastic.
4) If biodegradable bags are mistakenly put into plastic recycling, then they can degrade the quality of the recycled plastic.

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