We recently had a query regarding the use of plastic bags in our organic veg boxes. As the theory goes, if one customer is thinking it, you can bet there will be many others who feel the same, but haven’t posed the question. We always strive to get our salad leaves, lettuce and other tender crops (like kale) to customers in tip top condition. Unfortunately, I am afraid that nothing works as well as plastic.
Are plastic bags appropriate for organic veg boxes?
Please don’t dismiss this as a flippant or thoughtless comment, particularly in light of the significant environmental challenges we all face. I’ve been growing organically for over 20 years and sustainable production is my passion. And I take my responsibility for the planet as seriously as I do my responsibility to my customers. But having spent months growing a crop with great attention to detail, I would be letting myself and my customers down if our boxes contained a bunch of wilted leaves or greens. No matter how sustainably they were produced, or how green the packaging, I suspect many customers would soon decide to go elsewhere.
Finding a suitable packaging material for tender leaf crops is a problem most (sustainably minded) growers face. We have tried all sorts of materials over the years. Paper is fine for spuds, but soon gets damp and absorbs moisture when used with leafy or wet crops. Unfortunately, biodegradable or compostable plastics are even worse and visibly suck moisture out of the salads within an hour or two—plus there is considerable evidence to suggest they are no more environmentally friendly in many respects than plastic. Guy Watson at Riverford Organics in Devon spent a great deal of time researching the use of plastic vs other materials, and follows the same policy as we do (read his position here
These are complex issues that I have struggled with for over 20 years. We only source recycled plastic bags and we only use them for specific crops. We leave soil on certain crops like carrots to minimise moisture loss and thus avoid unnecessary packaging. We encourage our customers to recycle plastic bags themselves, but if recycling services are not available you can always pop the bags in your boxes and we will collect them and recycle them for you (we cannot reuse the bags for hygiene reasons). We try to collect and reuse our veg boxes as often as possible for exactly the same reasons. And it helps keep our costs (and our prices) down, too.
One of the reasons I’m an organic grower is because I believe it’s the most environmentally friendly way to produce food. If there was better solution that would also ensure your veg didn’t arrive wilted, we would already be using it. I know we don’t yet have the perfect system. But when you consider the whole picture—the significant benefits of organic production methods in terms of the environmental impact, the wildlife biodiversity benefits, the lower energy use, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and so on—and the need to provide you with nutritious, good-quality food, I believe we’re all making the right choices on this one.
Thank you again for raising the issue. Without wishing to sound too pretentious, transparency and honest debate are really important.